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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.

Zverev beats Djokovic to win ATP Finals title

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LONDON — Alexander Zverev upset Novak Djokovic to claim the biggest title of his career with a 6-4, 6-3 victory at the ATP Finals on Sunday.

The 21-year-old Zverev became the youngest champion of the season-ending event since Djokovic claimed the first of his five titles a decade ago, and the first from Germany since 1995.

Top-ranked Djokovic was attempting to tie Roger Federer’s record of six titles but followed the same path as the Swiss great, who lost to Zverev in the semifinals at the O2 Arena.

Djokovic’s serve hadn’t been broken all tournament until the final. Zverev did it once in the first set and three times in the second, completing the victory with a spectacular backhand winner up the line.

Both players began the match in the same form that had seen them earn straight-sets semifinal victories a day earlier, with few points going against the server.

It was Djokovic, who had lost just two of his previous 37 matches, who began to feel the pressure as consecutive forehand errors gave Zverev a chance to serve out the opening set at 5-4.

Fans gave Zverev a huge ovation as he stepped up to serve, and it appeared to inspire him. Three straight aces brought up three set points, the second of which he took when Djokovic sent another forehand long.

Zverev even began to outlast Djokovic in longer rallies, an area of the game the 14-time Grand Slam champion usually dominates. A 26-shot duel brought up another break point in the opening game of the second set and, although Djokovic saved it, Zverev won another lengthy exchange moments later with a forehand winner to go 1-0 up.

With the biggest win of his career in sight, Zverev began to show some nerves. Although he is the only active player outside of the Big Four of Djokovic, Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray to possess three or more Masters titles, the young German has only reached one Grand Slam quarterfinal.

Two double faults and two backhand errors gifted Djokovic an immediate break back, but Zverev quickly refocused to win a 28-shot rally on his way to breaking in the following game.

From there he remained solid on serve, before ending with a flourish. Having been pushed wide, a backhand winner on the run drifted past the helpless Djokovic.

Zverev sunk to the ground in tears as Djokovic sportingly crossed the net to embrace the player who will now be considered among the favorites to end the Serb’s run of two consecutive Grand Slam victories in Australia in two months’ time.

Earlier, American pair Mike Bryan and Jack Sock saved a match point in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Pierre-Hughes Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 5-7, 6-1, 13-11 for their first ATP Finals doubles title together.

Having failed to take advantage of five championship points during the first-to-10 match tiebreaker, Bryan and Sock then had to save one against their French opponents before finally closing out victory.

“It was a hell of a match,” Bryan said.

The 40-year-old Bryan has now won the tournament five times. He won four times with his usual partner – and brother – Bob, who has been out with an injured hip since May.

Sock and Bryan have dominated since teaming up, winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open before finishing their season in style in London.

“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Bryan said. “This could be our last hoorah because Bob’s training back in Florida.”

Bryan, Sock win ATP Finals doubles title

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LONDON — American pair Mike Bryan and Jack Sock saved a match point in the deciding tiebreaker to beat Pierre-Hughes Herbert and Nicolas Mahut 5-7, 6-1, 13-11 for their first ATP Finals doubles title together on Sunday.

Having failed to take advantage of five championship points during the first-to-10 match tiebreaker, Bryan and Sock then had to save one against their French opponents before finally closing out victory at the O2 Arena.

“It was a hell of a match,” Bryan said.

The 40-year-old Bryan has now won the season-ending tournament five times. He won four times with his usual partner – and brother – Bob, who has been out with an injured hip since May.

Sock and Bryan have dominated since teaming up, winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open before finishing their season in style in London.

“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Bryan said. “This could be our last hoorah because Bob’s training back in Florida.”

After reaching the singles semifinals last year, Sock has endured a torrid season in that format, falling outside the top-100 ranked players. However, he became the first American since John McEnroe to add a doubles final appearance at the tournament to his last-four singles showing.

“This is special because it was a pretty bad year in singles,” Sock said. “This makes up for some of the low moments I’ve had.”

The French duo’s season is not over yet. Herbert and Mahut are part of their nation’s squad for the Davis Cup final against Croatia, which starts in Lille on Friday.