The teams have been announced and all of the previous squad selection conjecture is mere history, as Belarus take on the USA in Minsk in the Fed Cup final on Saturday.
Coco Vandeweghe, Shelby Rogers, and Alison Riske line up alongside the US Open Champion for the United States. On the other side, Aryna Sabalenka is joined by fellow Fed Cup stalwart Aliaksandra Sasnovich, along with #130 ranked Vera Lapko and #477 Lidziya Marozava completing the line up. The latter player is the highest ranked doubles player at #65, which is likely to be a key rubber. For the USA, Vandeweghe and Rogers have both played Fed Cup doubles this year, but not together. Vandeweghe is currently ranked #64 in doubles, so a close rubber is in the offing.
Some Big Players missing for both USA and Belarus
Victoria Azarenka misses out to concentrate on her ongoing custody battle for her son. Key players for the USA, including the Williams sisters and Madison Keys, are also absentees. Whilst none of these are massive surprises, the presence of Azarenka in the squad would have been a great boost for Belarus.
Venus Williams’ absence will be the hardest for the Americans to take. She has consistently turned up for the big occasions this year – making the WTA end of season final in Singapore and two Slam finals. Venus’ worst slam performance was her fourth round exit in the French Open 2017. That said, coach Kathy Rinaldi-Stunkel would not have come to this agreement for Venus not to play lightly and the veteran has had a gruelling season.
Aryna Sabalenka and Sloane Stephens looking to lead their countries to greatness
The feisty 19-year-old, #76 ranked Belarussian, Aryna Sabalenka oozes pride in the Fed Cup, securing the victory in the semis against Switzerland. Earlier on in the season, Sabalenka was scrapping away in ITF events, but has finished the season with a semi-final appearance in Tashkent and topped that by reaching the final in Tianjin. She lost 7-5, 7-6 to Sharapova and had commanding leads in each set. However, she will learn from this big game experience and will look to rise to the big occasion in her own country.
Sabalenka’s direct adversary, Sloane Stephens, has had a topsy-turvy season. Missing much of the first half of it due to injury, she then produced an awe-inspiring comeback to win the US Open and have a great American hardcourt season. However, Stephens’ form has dipped again and she is on a four-match losing streak.
The Outcome is Closer Than you Might Think
The atmosphere in the indoor hardcourt venue is bound to be electric. Singles rankings, especially, suggest that it should be straight forward for the USA. Belarus has an enviable team spirit and will pull together to make it difficult for the favourites.