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31 October 2012

Big crowd, even bigger occasion


NEWS ARTICLE

Photo: Paul ZimmerCzech Fed Cup team

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC: This weekend the Czechs will play in front of the biggest Fed Cup crowd they’ve ever experienced. While getting their hands on the cup will not be a new feeling for the girls, lifting it at home is something they all want to experience.

As soon as the tickets for the final went on sale, Petra Kvitova’s father Jiri snapped up 100 for his nearest and dearest and it only needed six hours for the 13,800 capacity arena to completely sell out. With a journey to Slovak Republic, Belgium and Russia last year in their quest for the title, a title at home this weekend will, according to Lucie Safarova, simply be “amazing”.

In 2011, Petr Pala’s team had to fight hard to win the nation its first Fed Cup title since 1988. Twice they were forced to battle for victory in the decisive fifth rubber – against Belgium in the semifinals and Russia in the final – but with perhaps a new-found confidence and, as is evident here at the O2 Arena, a strong camaraderie to add to their talent, this year’s journey has appeared a breeze so far in comparison. Two straight rubber victories against notoriously tenacious opponents Germany and Italy, and they are back in the final.

The home side are in a relaxed mood this week despite a poorly Kvitova, and look to have every chance of being crowned Fed Cup champion for a second year in a row with both a strong singles and doubles input this weekend.  

New to the scene is Andrea Hlavackova, one half of the No. 2-ranked women’s doubles team in the world. She and Lucie Hradecka (who won the decisive fifth rubber in last year’s final with the retiring Kveta Peschke) have stormed to the forefront of women’s doubles in the latter half of this year, making headlines with a silver medal at this year’s Olympics, winning four titles and finishing runners-up at Wimbledon, the US Open and the WTA Championships. The timing couldn’t have been better for the Czechs, who only 12 months ago, were contemplating a future without one of their biggest assets, Peschke.

Asked if she will definitely be playing this weekend, Kvitova replied with an emphatic “yes”.  The 22-year old withdrew from the WTA Championships last week with bronchitis at the business end of what has been a slow season for the world No.  8. Some consider Kvitova’s year – which featured just two titles and two Grand Slam semifinals – an underachievement and that bringing the Fed Cup title home here in Prague will be merely compensation, but the former world No. 2 has been consistently vocal about how important another Fed Cup title will mean in its own right ever since the Czechs stormed into the final with a 3-0 win over Italy back in April.

There is of course an extra special buzz around the city at the moment what with the girls’ counterparts, the Czech Davis Cup team, coming to the O2 Arena again in two weeks’ time for their final against Spain. The last time any nation won both the Fed Cup and Davis Cup titles in the same year was USA in 1990 - so the girls will hope to set an example and put their nation on the right path with victory over Serbia.

The Serbs have brought a lefthanded hitting partner to Prague in anticipation of playing two lefthanded singles players, Kvitova and Safarova, but equally, the girls are very aware of what Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic have in their artillery.

“Ana is a very difficult player,” Kvitova muses. “She has a great big serve, she’s going for winners all the time. And Jelena is a very good mover. It’s going to be a tough final.”

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