The ATP is taking a break this week with its elite eight preparing for the London World Tour Finals, while the WTA has essentially gone into hibernation. Thurs, this week’s episode of Tactics Tuesday presents a good opportunity to take a look at the last big event on the women’s calendar: the Fed Cup Finals between the Czech Republic and Germany.
The final will be held indoors in Prague’s O2 arena, and the rubbers will be played on the Novacrylic Ultracushion surface, a relatively fast hard court.
Petr Pala has nominated Petra Kvitova, Lucie Safarova, Karolina Pliskova and Lucie Hradecka; Barbara Rittner’s team consists of Angelique Kerber, Andrea Petkovic, Sabine Lisicki, and Julia Goerges. The teams last met in 2012 in the quarterfinals, where the Czech team won 4-1 but with somewhat different teams compared to this year. Barring an unexpected change of heart during training, it’s expected that both team captains will nominate their top two players for the singles rubbers.
And this is where we come in:
Petra Kvitova vs. Angelique Kerber
H2H: 3-2 in favor of Kvitova. (Last match: WTA Championships 2013, Round Robin: Kvitova def. Kerber 6-7(3) 6-2 6-3)
The Czech and the German are the two lefties in the WTA Top 10 over the past few years, but the similarities end there. The 2014 Wimbledon winner is a first-class aggressive ballstriker and is, at her best, practically unplayable. Kerber’s game, by contrast, is more closely defined on the couterpuncher side of the spectrum; her fantastically soft hands allow her be most dangerous on the run.
Four of their five matches have gone the distance, and this will be their first meeting in 2014. Their contrasting approaches from the baseline have led to interesting matches in the past, but it’s Kvitova’s superior serve that holds the edge in this match-up. Kerber’s first serve can set her up well for a rally but her second tends to sit up. If the Czech comes out focused, she’ll clobber those for winners as she pleases. The German might be the more consistent player of the two, but besides bringing her own A game, she’ll also have to rely on patchy play from her opponent which, given who Kvitova played in Singapore, isn’t an impossible outcome.
Prediction: Kvitova in three.
Lucie Safarova vs. Andrea Petkovic
H2H: 4-2 in favor of Petkovic. (Last match: Charleston 2014 QF: Petkovic def. Safarova 6-3 1-6 6-1)
After a tumultuous month, Andrea Petkovic capped off the year with a title in Sofia and will travel to Prague with renewed confidence. Safarova ended on a slightly sour note, losing a topsy-turvy affair to Irina-Camelia Begu in the Moscow semis. Nonetheless, it’s been a banner year for both: the Czech lefty reached her first major semifinal and gave many Top 10 players a scare, while Petkovic won three titles and also reached a debut semi of her own in Paris.
A lot is going to depend on how long it will take Petkovic to get out of the starting block. The self-proclaimed “Diesel” had another one of her slow starts against Pennetta on Sunday but was able to turn things around in three sets. If Safarova gets ahead early, there’s every chance she’ll ride on the wave of home support and give the German all sorts of trouble, particularly with forehand crosscourt into Petkovic’s backhand side. Based on current momentum after her Sofia victory Petkovic probably has got the edge but in terms of match-up this is a fairly even affair.
Prediction: Petkovic in three.
Petra Kvitova vs. Andrea Petkovic
H2H: 4-3 in favor of Petkovic (Last match: Cincinatti 2011 R16: Petkovic def. Kvitova 6-3 6-3)
These two haven’t played since…2011? How is that even possible? Anyway, this match-up could depend significantly on whether it falls on Day 1 or Day 2. Petkovic is going to hit with Kerber all week, so she should be used to playing a lefty. But in terms of fine-tuning she’d probably prefer to play Safarova before Kvitova. Safarova does give the ball a considerable bigger whack on average compared to Kerber, but Kvitova is in a league of her own. If Kerber manages to draw the Wimbledon Champion into a long, dramatic affair on Saturday, there’s a possibility that the Czech No. 1 will return to the Arena on a flat foot the following day.
And that’s when Petkovic might end up reaping the rewards.
It’s difficult to gauge this one because they haven’t played in ages but it’s difficult to bet against Kvitova. But there are a couple of “if”s and “when”s to this equation.
Prediction: Kvitova in two.
Lucie Safarova vs. Angelique Kerber
H2H: 1-0 in favor of Kerber (Paris Indoors 2012 R32: Kerber def. Safarova 6-2 7-6)
Again – how have these two not played since early 2012? How have they only played once overall? Kerber might end up feeling quite comfortable in this match-up, particularly if her first serve holds up. Though Safarova’s groundstrokes pack a punch, Kerber won’t find them as overwhelming as Kvitova’s and the German could find herself in a position where she draws out more than just a handful of unforced errors out of the Czech’s racquet. Safarova will probably come out with all guns blazing, but taking everything into account, this is a must-win rubber for the Germans.
Prediction: Kerber in three.
But what about the alternatives?
Karolina Pliskova: Pliskova has reached three finals since the US Open, winning tournaments in Seoul and Linz. The Czech has rose all the way up to No. 24 in the rankings – trailing Safarova by just seven spots – and notched wins over Petkovic and Kerber this season, but lost to Lisicki three times. The younger Pliskova twin certainly presents a viable alternative to Safarova on paper, particularly based on recent form. However, Pliskova has never been nominated for Fed Cup before and there’s a chance the pressure and the different atmosphere might get to her.
Prediction: Pliskova might make an appearance in a dead singles rubber – but she’ll definitely partner the experienced Hradecka in doubles.
Sabine Lisicki: Lisicki’s nomination hasn’t gone without making some noise, but the German has managed to be more consistent in the second half of the season. Lisicki won her first tournament in over three years in Hong Kong, defeating Karolina Pliskova and took out Safarova in Wuhan. She has a positive H2H against the Czech No. 2 and forced Kvitova to three sets in their last two meetings. However, the holder of the fastest serve on the women’s tour is the ultimate glass cannon in Rittner’s team. She could easily win two rubbers but just as easily end up with a hand full of bagels and breadsticks.
Prediction: Lisicki might make an appearance on day two if Petkovic or Kerber disappoint – but even then she’d be a very risky trump card to play.
Speaking of doubles…
Should we head towards a deciding fifth rubber, the Czech team should have the edge here, especially with someone as renowned as Hradecka in their fold. Goerges has improved in doubles over the year but she isn’t quite as experienced as the Czechs. That said – all sorts of weird things have happened in deciding Fed Cup doubles matches in the past.
Overall, the Czechs have the home field advantage and probably also the slight edge overall, particularly since Kvitova and Safarova relish fast indoor conditions. Regardless of the outcome, it’s nice to see both teams playing the event at full strength. Here’s hoping for an exciting and high quality final weekend of women’s tennis in 2014.