Paris - Martina Hingis looks to reach a first Fed Cup final
in almost two decades when Switzerland face Belarus with the former world
number one revelling in her role as the team's "big sister".
Hingis, 36 and a five-time Grand Slam singles champion, was
just 17 when she and Switzerland were defeated 3-2 by Spain in the 1998 final.
Hingis won both her singles rubbers in that tie but lost the
key doubles alongside Patty Schnyder.
Since then, she has retired and made two comebacks, carving
out a successful career as a doubles specialist, even managing to claim a silver
medal alongside compatriot Timea Bacsinszky at the Rio Olympics last year.
Hingis will play just doubles in Minsk on Sunday although
that could prove a decisive mission against a Belarus squad who are making
their semi-final debut.
"In the Fed Cup, I am like the big sister now,"
admitted Hingis. "My role is different these days but we are a strong team
with a great spirit."
Switzerland made the semi-finals by defeating two-time
champions France while Belarus shocked the Netherlands despite the continued
absence of former world number one Victoria Azarenka who has taken a break from
the sport after giving birth to her first child.
The Swiss, playing in back-to-back Fed Cup semi-finals, will
Bacsinszky is the tie's top singles player, ranked at 22 in
the world, with Viktorjia Golubic at 54.
Injury-plagued Belinda Bencic is now down at 129 but was as
high as seven in February last year.
By contrast, Belarus's top player is Aliaksandra Sasnovich,
ranked 96 with Aryna Sabalenka at 125 and Olga Govortsova, contesting her 31st
Fed Cup tie, down at 147.
The hosts, however, are on an eight-match winning streak in
the Fed Cup.
In Tampa, the United States, winners on 17 occasions, host
defending champions Czech Republic who have been winners 10 times -- five in
the last six seasons.
The US, without the pregnant Serena Williams, will be led by
Coco Vandeweghe, the world 24 and 36-ranked Lauren Davis while Bethanie
Mattek-Sands brings her speciality in doubles which has brought her 25 titles.
The US have not made the final in seven years.
The Czechs, bidding to reach a sixth final in seven years,
are missing their four leading singles players, including world number three
Karolina Pliskova and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova who is
recovering from fighting off a knife-wielding intruder in December.
In their place, world number 38 Katerina Siniakova and
109-ranked Denisa Allertova are poised to make their singles debuts in the
Kristyna Pliskova and Marketa Vondrusova could make their
Vondrousova, 17, stunned the sport last weekend when she
came through qualifying to win a debut career title at the Biel/Bienne Open in
Switzerland despite her humble ranking of 233.