Prague - Barbora Strycova overpowered Sofia Kenin and
Katerina Siniakova beat Alison Riske to hand the Czech Republic a 2-0 lead over
holders the United States in the Fed Cup final in Prague on Saturday.
Strycova, the world number 33, came from a set down to beat
the 52nd-ranked, 19-year-old Kenin 6-7 (5/7), 6-1, 6-4 in two hours and 43
Siniakova, the world number 31, then saw off 63rd-ranked
Riske 6-3, 7-6 (7/2).
The hosts are a win away from their sixth title in the last
eight editions and their 11th overall, including five as the former
Czechoslovakia. The United States have lifted the trophy a record 18 times.
The 32-year-old Strycova, who has announced her retirement
from Fed Cup duty after the final, struggled with her serve throughout a
nervous first set.
Strycova and Fed Cup debutant Kenin earned two breaks each,
with the more aggressive US teenager taking the set in a tie-break.
But, propelled by the sold-out O2 Arena with 14,500 fans,
the four-time Fed Cup winner regained composure in the second to sweep aside
the Russian-born Kenin, who is still in search of her maiden WTA singles title.
Strycova took a 5-2 lead in the third and despite giving up
two breaks, she took the set 6-4.
"For me it was a lot of emotions," Strycova said
on court after the win.
"I fought every ball and I'm so happy that I could win
today in front of such a crowd. It means a lot to me.
"Every point is very important and I'm very happy I
could do it today."
Kenin admitted she was "a little bit overwhelmed"
by her debut.
"I was pretty nervous but I was able to handle
it," she said.
"In the second set I got a lot of break opportunities
but she just played too good so credit to her."
Siniakova cruised through the first set of her encounter
with Riske, forging ahead through a pair of breaks after indulging in
groundstrokes and long rallies.
Riske went 3-1 up in the second set, but Siniakova levelled
and took the set to a tie-break which she dominated to seal victory.
The US are missing Sloane Stephens, Serena Williams, Venus
Williams and Madison Keys, while the Czechs are without Karolina Pliskova.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova has ended up on
the bench with a bad cold, although she is hoping to play on Sunday.