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Inexperienced U.S. faces weakened Czechs in Fed Cup final

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PRAGUE — United States captain Kathy Rinaldi has had a winning formula since taking over the Fed Cup team, and she’s not expected to change anything in this year’s final against the Czech Republic.

Under her charge since 2017, the U.S. has won five straight matches, including last year’s final against Belarus.

“Being a captain for last year and this year, every match you go into it you never underestimate any team,” Rinaldi said Wednesday ahead of the weekend final on an indoor hard court at the O2 Arena in Prague.

“These are the two teams with most history in Fed Cup, the best record, so it’s very exciting. We’re honored and humble to be here. For me as a captain to be in the second final is absolutely incredible.”

On the way to the final, the Americans defeated the Netherlands 3-1 and France 3-2. But they have to rely on a different team in Prague.

After four of the top five U.S. women in the WTA singles rankings – the Williams sisters, Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys – decided to skip the final, three players on the team have yet to play a Fed Cup match.

The 18-time champions have Danielle Collins as the highest-ranked player at No. 36, along with 52nd-ranked Sofia Kenin and 63rd-ranked Alison Riske. Nicole Melichar is ranked 15th in doubles.

“In sports, any given Sunday, anything can happen,” said Melichar, who was born in the second largest Czech city of Brno but has been living in the United States her whole life. “We have a great team, we’re going to go out and we’re going to fight.”

The Czechs have more reasons to worry about their sixth final in eight years.

After No. 8 Karolina Pliskova was ruled out of the final with calf muscle and wrist injuries on Saturday, Czech Republic captain Petr Pala had some more bad news to announce on Wednesday about Petra Kvitova.

“Petra had a fever,” Pala said. “After an agreement with the doctors we decided she wouldn’t be training (today).”

However, Pala added: “Nothing suggests she wouldn’t be available for the weekend.”

Missing Kvitova would be a blow for the Czech hopes. She contributed to all five previous titles, reaching fourth place among players with the most Fed Cup trophies.

Kvitova returned to the team this year after recovering from injuries she suffered during a knife attack at her home in December 2016 and won all her four singles matches on the way to the 3-1 victory over Switzerland in the first round and a 4-1 win over Germany in the semifinals.

Kvitova won five WTA tournaments in the first half of the year but lost all her group matches at the WTA Finals in Singapore last month.

The Czechs have the No. 1 doubles pair of Katerina Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova, and also 33rd-ranked Barbora Strycova available.

Siniakova, ranked 31st, is expected to play both singles and doubles.

“I just try to work this week to be ready,” she said.

The Czechs have never beaten the Americans in the Fed Cup. Their last victory came in 1985 as Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia won five titles.

Benedetti wins 12th stage; Polanc takes Giro lead

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PINEROLO, Italy (AP) Cesare Benedetti won the 12th stage of the Giro d’Italia on Thursday for his first victory as a professional while Jan Polanc took the overall leader’s pink jersey from UAE Emirates teammate Valerio Conti.

Benedetti, an Italian with the Bora team who has been a support rider for his entire career, was part of an early breakaway then accelerated from a select group of riders in a sprint finish.

“I’ve worked a lot for the others in the past but today I got my opportunity,” Benedetti said. “I’m not (usually) a winner.”

Benedetti required 3 hours, 41 minutes to complete the 158-kilometer (98-mile) leg from Cuneo to Pinerolo, which featured one major climb and another shorter but steeper ascent just before the finish.

Damiano Caruso crossed second and Eddie Dunbar came third, each with the same time as Benedetti. Polanc, a Slovenian who was also in the breakaway, finished 25 seconds behind.

In the overall standings, Polanc leads Primoz Roglic by 4 minutes, 7 seconds. Vincenzo Nibali, one of the pre-race favorites, is fifth overall, 5:51 behind.

“It was a team tactic that I would go in the breakaway so we could have a better control over the race,” Polanc said. “It was also a way to keep the pink jersey in the team.”

Mikel Landa and Miguel Angel Lopez attacked on the first-category climb to Montoso and gained about 30 seconds on the other overall favorites.

Before the stage began, sprinters Caleb Ewan and Elia Viviani withdrew from the race. Ewan won two stages, including the 11th leg a day earlier, while Viviani posted three second-place finishes.

Stage 13 on Friday is one of the race’s toughest, with two category one climbs and one category ascent, along with an uphill finish at the end of the 196-kilometer leg from Pinerolo to Ceresole Reale.

The Giro ends June 2 in Verona.

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Tsonga rallies past qualifier to reach quarterfinals in Lyon

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LYON, France (AP) Former champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga rallied past Canadian qualifier Steven Diez on Wednesday to reach the quarterfinals and extend his perfect record at the Lyon Open.

Tsonga, the 2017 champion, came within two points of losing but finally prevailed 3-6, 7-6 (2), 6-3 on his sixth match point after 2 hours, 42 minutes.

The clay-court event serves as a warmup for the French Open, which starts Sunday in Paris.

“It was good for me to play a long match like this,” Tsonga said. “I haven’t played a match this long for a while. I am not playing my best level, but I am giving everything mentally and that gives me confidence.”

Tsonga will next take on top-seeded Nikoloz Basilashvili, who beat lucky loser Tristan Lamasine 7-5, 7-5.

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