Prague (AFP) – Barbora Strycova will launch the Czech Republic’s Fed Cup victory bid on Saturday when she faces American Sofia Kenin in the opening match on Saturday.
Czech ambitions to claim an 11th title have been dampened with the loss of both Karolina Pliskova (injury) and Petra Kvitova, who is sick but hoping to recover in time for Sunday.
Strycova, the 33rd-ranked Czech number two, will hope to put the first point on the board when she faces 19-year-old Kenin, who is still in search of her maiden WTA singles title, on the hardcourt of Prague’s O2 Arena at 1300 GMT on Saturday.
Katerina Siniakova, the world number 31, will then face 63rd-ranked Alison Riske in Saturday’s second rubber.
Siniakova has replaced seventh-ranked Kvitova as the Czech number one after the two-time Wimbledon champion pulled out of Saturday’s singles with a bad cold.
“Despite everything, we’re still the favourites because our girls are great players,” Czech captain Petr Pala told reporters.
“I’m very confident about the team and I really liked the way Barbora and Katerina have practised.”
US captain Kathy Rinaldi has decided to bench 36th-ranked Danielle Collins and go with Riske, who was on the US team that won the title last year.
“I believe in all my players up here,” she said.
On Sunday, Siniakova is due to face Kenin and Strycova will then take on Riske.
Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova are then scheduled to face Danielle Collins and the Czech-born Nicole Melichar in the final doubles rubber.
The teams may change after day one and if Kvitova gets better, she is certain to appear on the court on Sunday.
“I’m feeling a bit better which is a good sign but we’re going to see after tomorrow’s matches,” Kvitova said Friday.
“We’ll see what happens on Sunday but for Saturday we’re prepared, we’re ready to go,” said Rinaldi.
Riske, the only player on the US team with Fed Cup experience, said all the pressure was on the hosts.
“I think I definitely do like the court a lot and any time that I’m indoors… I feel pretty at home,” she added.
The US, eyeing a record-extending 19th title, are missing Sloane Stephens, Serena Williams and Madison Keys.
The United States beat Belarus in Minsk in last year’s final after seeing off the Czechs in the semi-final, with Siniakova making her debut as Czech number one then.
“I hope I can use this experience,” said the 22-year-old Siniakova.
“I’m really excited to go to the court. Of course I expect a tough match,” added Siniakova, who has a 2-1 head-to-head record with Riske while Strycova and Kenin have never met on court.
The US and the Czechs are the most successful teams in Fed Cup history, with the hosts also being second best in terms of head-to-head, winning only two of their previous 12 meetings.
Led by Kvitova and Pliskova, the Czechs have won five of the last seven editions including all three finals they have played on Prague’s hardcourt.