Minsk - Sloane Stephens is back in the United States team
for the Fed Cup final, and Victoria Azarenka is missing for Belarus.
That alone gives the early advantage to the Americans.
Stephens, who won the US Open this year for her first major
title, missed the opening two rounds of the international team competition
because of a foot injury.
But she is back and will be playing alongside CoCo
Vandeweghe, Shelby Rogers and Alison Riske in the best-of-five series this
weekend in Minsk.
"I'm happy to be back playing and happy the team made
the finals," the 13th-ranked Stephens said Wednesday. "It's awesome I
can be on this team."
The United States is looking to win the Fed Cup for the first
time in 17 years, while Belarus is playing in the final for the first time.
Stephens hasn't played in the Fed Cup since the 2016
quarterfinals, but she said it's been "no problem at all" slipping
back onto the squad.
"Obviously, I've known these girls since I was 12-13
years old, so we're all really good friends," Stephens said. "It's
easy to be with girls you like, girls you have fun with and girls you've been
around for a really long time."
Stephens didn't play from the 2016 Olympics through Wimbledon
in 2017 and underwent foot surgery during that period.
She arrived in Minsk
after not winning any of the four matches she's played since her surprise US Open
victory. She retired with a knee injury from her last match against Barbora
Strycova in China last week.
Vandeweghe, in her first week at a career-high No 10
ranking, won two Fed Cup singles points against Germany in the quarter-finals,
and two singles and the doubles points against the Czech Republic in the
But the US Open semi-finalist said she knows very little
about this weekend's competition, having never played Aryna Sabalenka,
Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Vera Lapko or Lidziya Marozava.
"I feel like I'm coming in with wool over my eyes a
little bit," Vandeweghe said.
Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, is not
playing in the final because of an ongoing custody dispute with the father of
her infant son.
If US captain Kathy Rinaldi wins the title, she would be the
first female to do so since Billie Jean King led the Americans to the last of
their record 17 titles in 2000.
"It would be a great honor to be named as another
female (champion) captain alongside Billie Jean," said Rinaldi, who is in
her first year as captain. "I spoke to Billie Jean before I came over. She
had some very inspiring words for me."