The facility is nice, the know-how is nice and the undefeated record is very nice. But if you’re wondering why the U.S. Fed Cup team is making another stop in Delray Beach, you might start by thinking about a comfy pillow awaiting Serena Williams right up the road.
“The convenience factor,” is how the U.S. Tennis Association’s Jeff Ryan put it.
San Antonio and Asheville, N.C., also bid for the United States vs. Sweden on April 20-21, but Delray Beach won out on a number of factors, including proximity to Serena and Venus Williams’ home in Palm Beach Gardens as well as Sloane Stephens’ base in Coral Springs.
While that doesn’t guarantee fans will see all three in the playoff to see which country remains in the prestigious World Group and which is relegated to World Group II, it clearly enhances the chances of the trio being on captain Mary Joe Fernandez’s roster when it is announced this week.
“We fully anticipate them playing because they’ve told us they are,” Ryan, the senior director of USA team events, said of Serena and Stephens. “I’m hoping Venus comes.”
Fernandez said of the Williamses, “They’ve won Fed Cup already, they don’t play all the time and it’s huge when they come, for the players to be around champions like that. You can’t really teach that. You can’t put a price tag on it. It’s amazing to have them around.”
The sisters have endured a variety of health issues recently but faced off last week in the semifinals of the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, S.C., where Serena eventually was crowned champion. Add naturalized citizen Varvara Lepchenko, whom Ryan hopes makes herself available, and it’s obvious the United States, ranked sixth, is taking no chances against 11th-ranked Sweden in the best-of-five format, which consists of two singles on Saturday followed by reverse singles and doubles on Sunday.
Host countries can be cagey about where they assign international team tennis events. One year ago, Serena Williams was preparing for “the craziest journey” to Kharkiv, Ukraine, for a Fed Cup match. Last weekend, the U.S. Davis Cup team forced Serbia to play in Boise, Idaho. The Americans had altitude on their side; the Serbs, Novak Djokovic. Talent prevailed.
The U.S. Fed Cup team is 3-1 all-time against Sweden and 3-0 in Florida. This will be the third Fed Cup tie at the Delray Beach Stadium & Tennis Center, the most of any venue in the country.
“It’s been a lucky state for us,” Ryan said. “It’s just important to make these players comfortable and happy in their environment and the Delray Beach Tennis Center is a wonderful tennis facility.”
It’s one with history. In 2007, Vania King was on the U.S. roster for its quarterfinal against Belgium. On Day 1, she served as a fill-in singer for the national anthem. On Day 2, it was Serena who couldn’t go, suffering from inflammation in her right knee. Playing the third-longest match in U.S. Fed Cup history, King defeated Kirsten Flipkens in three sets over an Alicia Keys-like 2 hours, 38 minutes. Not only did the Americans win 5-0, but Serena wondered if King should embark on “a double career.”
Things weren’t quite so rosy in 2005, when the United States swept a Belgian team missing Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin. The crowd of 4,142 was met by about 10 protesters outside the stadium who were upset at the city’s racial divide. Ironically, the protest occurred as the United States was represented by the Williams sisters and captain Zina Garrison, who in 1990 became the first African-American woman to reach a Grand Slam final since Althea Gibson, 32 years prior.
There was little disputing what took place on the court. A news account pointed out that Lindsay Davenport won the first set against Eveline Vanhyfte in 14 minutes — less time than many NFL teams needed to make their first-round selections in the draft taking place the same weekend.
Fed Cup: United States vs. Sweden
Who: Rosters will be announced this week.
Where: Delray Beach Stadium & Tennis Center.
When: 2 p.m. Saturday, April 20, and 1 p.m. Sunday, April 21.
TV: Tennis Channel.
Tickets: Daily seats $30-$75 through ticketmaster.com or (888) 334-8782. Two-day packages are $70 and $120.
Also scheduled: An April 20 workshop for coaches and instructors working with players 10 and under. For information visit http://fedcup10andunderworkshop.eventbrite.com (registration deadline is Friday).