The six foot lefthander reached the world No. 2 ranking this time last year having broken the Top 10 just 19 months ago. Last year was a stellar season for the 22-year old in which she won six of her nine career titles, including her one and only Grand Slam to date – Wimbledon. But 2012 has seen less fortune and while she has remained consistent this year, she has yet to produce something outstanding, slipping to No. 8 in the rankings. She has been troubled with viruses this year which was responsible for her withdrawal from the WTA Championships in Istanbul last week, and she comes into the Fed Cup final with less match practice than the others, having played just four matches since the US Open. On the flipside, she’s almost unbeatable indoors and has not lost a Fed Cup singles rubber for two years. Her 10-match unbeaten run makes up an overall record of 15-4 in singles and she’s played in every one of Czech Republic’s last 11 ties.
Strengths: In addition to the huge lefty serve, Kvitova is an offensive player and a shot maker.
Weaknesses: Can sometimes zone out which means if she misses, she can miss for a while.
Another lefthander, who has reached her career-high ranking this year at No. 17. The 25-year old hasn’t made much of an impact on the tour for a while having been unable to follow up on her four career titles since 2008, but she is a constant presence. Boosted this year by a runner-up finish at Charleston, a semifinal at Montreal and a $100,000 ITF Women’s Circuit event in Prague back in May, she also won her first doubles title. Safarova hasn’t really had her shining moment in Fed Cup yet, and suffered in last year’s final when she lost both her singles rubbers to Svetlana Kuznetsova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. She wasn’t chosen to play in Czech Republic’s first round tie against Germany in Stuttgart, Iveta Benesova instead backing up Petra Kvitova, but she produced a tough win over Francesca Schiavone in the opening rubber of the semifinals to set the Czechs on course.
Strengths: Combines a fearsome forehand and a fighting spirit. Physically very fit so she can run for a long time.
Weaknesses: Her lack of consistency holds her back.
It’s fair to say that the former world No. 1 is rarely considered one of the serious challengers on the tour nowadays, and that has inadvertently – and rightfully – thrown a spotlight on her Fed Cup achievements, which have been exceptional. The 27-year old has won 12 career titles but none in two years and only reached one Grand Slam fourth round this year. But behind the scenes she has worked tirelessly over the last 11 years to take Serbia to its first Fed Cup final. She has played in 16 of the last 17 of Serbia’s ties and won 24 of her last 26 singles matches, including two impressive straight-set wins over Pavlyuchenkova and Kuznetsova in April’s semifinals. Jankovic had a shocking summer on the tour this season but her lack of results still doesn’t take anything away from her capability to sparkle in Fed Cup.
Strengths: A counterpuncher with great footwork and movement makes her an impenetrable opponent.
Weaknesses: She doesn’t have one main weapon in her shot-making, which can affect her confidence.
A more settled Ivanovic is enjoying a resurgence this year with her highest ranking in over three years (No. 12). Her run to the US Open quarterfinals was the furthest she has progressed at a Grand Slam since she was crowned champion at 2008 Roland Garros (she subsequently spent nine weeks as world No. 1). The 25-year old has certainly got her groove back after a couple of troubled seasons and has performed consistently this year, although no further titles to add to her total tally of 11. Ivanovic was a regular part of the Serbian Fed Cup team when she made her debut in 2006 and was instrumental in taking them to the World Group, but she has played only one tie in each of the past two years, reappearing in this year’s semifinals against Russia where she won from a set down against Pavlyuchenkova to give Serbia a 2-1 lead in the tie.
Strengths: Huge serve and powerful flat forehand.
Weaknesses: Weak at the net and can be mentally fragile on the court.
Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka
The world’s No. 2 doubles team has quickly risen to the top since first joining forces in 2008. The Czechs have won nine titles together, including 2011 Roland Garros, and their four this year have all been on hard court (Auckland, Memphis, Cincinnati and Luxembourg). They were finalists at Wimbledon and the Olympics, losing on both occasions to the Williams sisters. The pair are relatively new to Fed Cup: Hradecka joined in 2010 as partner to Kveta Peschke (now retired) and has had mixed success and Hlavackova made her debut in this year’s semifinal against Italy, but in the dead rubber, so this weekend is a great chance to show Fed Cup what they’ve got should the tie go down to the decisive fifth.
Krunic’s experience at tour-level is still in the early stages having only made her WTA debut in 2010, but she has made encouraging strides this year by reaching the quarterfinals at Baku, a WTA International, as a qualifier. Meanwhile she has gained valuable experience competing on Serbia’s Fed Cup team and has won three out of the four doubles rubbers she’s contested, with all three being decisive fifth rubbers too. In this year’s first round tie against Belgium she stepped in to play the third singles rubber, losing to Yanina Wickmayer, but was unperturbed when she returned for the doubles with Bojana Jovanovski, battling past the Belgians in three sets to put Serbia into their first final. She is here with a career-high singles ranking of 167.
Strengths: Gutsy and can handle the pressure.
Weaknesses: Lack of experience on the big stage.
The 20-year old had been ploughing away on the WTA tour for the past three years when she sprung a surprise by winning her first WTA title at the Baku Cup in July. Currently ranked No. 56, which makes her the third highest-ranked Serbian female behind Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic , Jovanovski has reacted well to her Fed Cup duties, often stepping in as the No. 2 singles player when Ivanovic hasn’t been available. She has been an integral part of the last five Serbian ties and partnered Krunic to victory in two live decisive doubles rubbers. She was recognised for her contribution when she was voted winner of the Fed Cup Heart Award last year.
Strengths: Fearless, has a self-proclaimed ‘Serbian mentality’ and embraces responsibility.
Weaknesses: Needs to improve her footwork on court.