It was first announced as a full-strength Czech Republic squad against a U.S. team of newbies for the Fed Cup final after the top U.S. players bowed out citing injuries or a long season.
Then former No. 1 Karolina Pliskova announced she would not play, citing wrist and calf injuries.
Now today two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova was announced out for day one, and perhaps the entire weekend, after coming down with an illness during the WTA Finals in Singapore.
What was formerly an un-watchable blowout on paper has become a highly-watchable match-up between two countries testing the depths of their line-ups.
“Chances are still there [for me to play],” said Kvitova, who hasn’t played all week due to a fever, after the draw on Friday. “I’m feeling a bit better.”
The opening match on Saturday will now see American 19-year-old Fed Cup debutante Sofia Kenin taking on No. 33-ranked Czech 32-year-old Barbora Strycova in a first-time meeting on the indoor hardcourt at the O2 Arena in Prague. The second singles on Saturday will see the only player on the U.S. squad that has Fed Cup experience, No. 63-ranked Alison Riske, taking on No. 31-ranked Katerina Siniakova, who leads their career head-to-head 2-1.
A Kenin win over Strycova in Prague would be a monster upset. Strycova helped clinch cup victories for the Czechs in 2015 over Russia and in 2016 over France.
On Sunday the same four players are scheduled to swap opponents, but substitutions can be made up to an hour prior to the match. If the contest is tied after the four singles matches it will come down to a deciding doubles match.
“It’s unusual — that never happened before,” captain Petr Pala said on losing his best two players. “But still I think we’re the favorites. I’m still very confident about my team.”
The 28-year-old Riske received the singles nod from U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi over team newcomer Danielle Collins due to her affinity for indoor hardcourts and growing up playing on the surface.
The Czechs have won the Fed Cup in five of the last seven years.
Play begins Saturday at 2 p.m. local time (8 a.m. EST) live on Tennis Channel.
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