Strycova gives Czechs early lead in Fed Cup final

The clash between the Czech Republic and defending champions the United States at Prague's O2 Arena takes place this weekend, with the home side appearing overwhelming favourites when the teams were announced.

Barbora Strycova had put the Czechs 1-0 up with a 6-7 (5) 6-1 6-4 win over Fed Cup newcomer Sofia Kenin in the opening rubber.

With the Fed Cup crown on the line, Siniakova won an epic 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 marathon over Kenin to clinch the tie.

Siniakova responded to the setback by easing to a 3-0 lead, while she came out on top in a dramatic fifth game - in part thanks to a fortunate net-cord - that spanned 19 minutes, making it 4-1.

The Czech Republic have won 10 straight ties at home and, as the dominant force in the competition over the past decade, are looking for a sixth title in eight years.

At the time of writing, Petra Kvitova was forced out of pre-event training and media commitments with a virus, and her absence would be a tough blow for a team already without world No8, Karolina Pliskova, who is out with a calf injury. Should she play, and her team win the title, it would take her to joint third in the overall list of titles won, equalling Rosie Casals' six, and behind only Chris Evert and Billie Jean King.

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In Sunday's reverse singles, Kenin will go up against Siniakova and Riske will meet Strycova.

Siniakova cruised through the first set of her encounter with Riske, forging ahead through a pair of breaks after indulging in groundstrokes and long rallies. Only Alison Riske has participated before, in three ties.

Both players made 32 unforced errors and the American had 23 winners _ two more than Strycova _ but the Czech made her experience count in the decisive points.

It is an 11th overall title for the Czechs, five of which came as the former Czechoslovakia, a haul second only to the usa and their record of 18. The American number one for the tie despite still seeking her maiden WTA singles title, Kenin regained composure in time to win the next four games before taking the set 7-5 as Siniakova visibly struggled with her nerves.

"For me it was a lot of emotions", Strycova said on court after the win. "For my Fed Cup debut, I was pretty nervous but I was able to handle it once I stepped on the court", Kenin said.

  • Lawrence Cooper