TENNIS

Fed Cup: USA hope to end 17-year title drought against first-time finalist Belarus

The US team is made up of CoCo Vandeweghe, Sloane Stephens, Shelby Rogers and Alison Riske while Belarus are missing Victoria Azarenka.

The United States aim to end their longest Fed Cup title drought when they meet a Belarus team missing former world number one and two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in this weekend’s final.

The 17-time champions USA claimed their last title in 2000 and have lost three finals since – to France in 2003 and Italy in 2009 and 2010.

This time they are missing the Williams sisters, who have not played in the Fed Cup this season, but all the members of American team are ranked higher than Belarus’ top available player, Aryna Sabalenka, who is 78th in the world.

Belarus have battled into their maiden Fed Cup final but will be without Azarenka because of an ongoing custody battle over her baby son.

Azarenka was forced to skip the US Open in August after a Los Angeles judge ruled that 10-month old Leo could not leave California until the case had been settled.

“It is heart-breaking for me to not have a chance to play and help Belarus in the final but unfortunately, my current custody situation is keeping me in California,” the 28-year-old said in a statement posted on her Twitter account.

“Even though I will not be in Minsk for the final my heart is always with my country and my team and I will cheer for them from afar.”

The US team is made up of world number 10 CoCo Vandeweghe, US Open champion Sloane Stephens, Shelby Rogers and Alison Riske.

American team captain Kathy Rinaldi said she believed in her team’s prospects in the final.

“We’ve selected the players who have been playing for the team this year and were instrumental in getting the team to the Fed Cup final,” she told Wednesday’s news conference.

“This is my A-team, I believe in its strength and the work that we have done to get this far.

“The players really care for each other, so we are very excited and ready to go. We respect Belarus, they have a strong, talented team which have had a great year and reached the final.”

The USA won their only previous Fed Cup encounter with Belarus, whitewashing the former Soviet republic 5-0 in the World Group II opening-round tie in February, 2012.

Belarus team skipper Eduard Dubrov said he believed that both teams had even chance of winning the title.

“One can consider us to be the final favourites. I have nothing against it but we don’t even think about it,” he said.

“We just come onto the court and play. For me it’s really hard to guess which team have the better chance to win.”

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