MOSCOW, RUSSIA: When Czech Republic defeated Belgium to reach this year’s Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final, popular opinion was that Russia would be hot favourites when the two teams come together in Moscow to compete for the trophy, but the tables have begun to turn.
Since that impressive semifinal win over Belgium back in April, the Czech team have gone from strength to strength and now Petr Pala’s side are on the verge of an historic achievement, although the captain himself is trying to play it down.
“I consider the Russians to be slight favourites,” said Pala, speaking at a press conference on Wednesday. “We come here as the underdogs, but we come here to win and we’ll do everything we can to achieve that.”
The Czechs last tasted Fed Cup success in 1988, although that was in the days of Czechoslovakia, and if they are to claim their first title as an independent nation then much will rely on the performance of the in-form Petra Kvitova.
Kvitova already had three tournament wins to her name when she led the Czechs to victory against the Belgians in April, but few people could have predicted how her career would spectacularly take off over the next six months.
The big hitting left-hander went on to record her maiden Grand Slam triumph at Wimbledon in July, alongside titles in Madrid and Linz, and then only last week capped her remarkable season by adding the WTA Championships trophy to her cabinet.
Kvitova’s performances have seen her world ranking jump from No. 34 at the start of the year to No. 2, but, like her captain, she is not getting carried away ahead of this weekend’s clash.
“It’s very nice that we’re in the Final,” said the 21-year-old. “If we win it will be something amazing for us and for Czech Republic, but we have to win three points which will be really tough against Russia.
“I think they are a little bit the favourites, but after Istanbul (WTA Championships) it’s quite open and I imagine when we’re playing at the weekend it’s going to be 50-50.”
Pala is in the enviable position of being able to name a full strength team, thanks to Lucie Safarova long since overcoming the thigh injury that kept her out of the semifinals, and that is a luxury that his opposite number, Shamil Tarpischev, doesn’t have.
Tarpischev is without his top player, Maria Sharapova, but he still has a wealth of talent to pick from, including world No. 7 Vera Zvonareva and two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
If the tie goes down to a deciding fifth rubber, which is a likely scenario, then Pala has another trick up his sleeve in the form of the experienced Kveta Peschke, currently the world’s No. 2 ranked doubles player, who would be expected to team up with Lucie Hradecka.
Ahead of the action getting under way on Saturday, Tarpischev and Pala will announce their chosen line-ups at Friday’s draw, when we will find out who the two captains have put their faith in to get the job done.
Petra Kvitova (CZE) - 02/11/2011