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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.

Djokovic wins World Sportsman of the Year at Laureus World Sports Awards

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MONACO  — Novak Djokovic, Tiger Woods, Lindsey Vonn and the France national soccer team were among the winners at the Laureus World Sports Awards, with Woods claiming the Comeback Award 19 years after he was first recognized.

Djokovic matched Usain Bolt’s record by being named World Sportsman of the Year for the fourth time after winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. He also earned the honor in 2012, 2015 and 2016.

Woods, who won the inaugural World Sportsman of the Year award in 2000, won the Tour Championship in September for his 80th PGA Tour title and his first since August 2013.

Vonn, who retired during the recent Alpine skiing world championships , took home the Spirit of Sport Award, which is given to an athlete for relentless dedication to his or her career, and France was honored for winning the World Cup in July.

Simone Biles was named World Sportswoman of the Year for winning four gold, one silver and one bronze medal at the gymnastics world championships. Naomi Osaka won the Breakthrough Award for winning the U.S. Open and Chloe Kim was named the World Action Sportsperson of the Year.

The awards were given in recognition of outstanding sports performance in 2018.

Wawrinka loses to Monfils in first final since knee surgeries

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ROTTERDAM, Netherlands — Three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka’s rebuilt knee couldn’t quite carry him to the title in Rotterdam on Sunday.

Wawrinka lost his first final since his comeback a year ago from left knee surgeries, succumbing 6-3, 1-6, 6-2 to Gael Monfils of France at the ABN AMRO World Tournament.

It was the Frenchman’s eighth career title.

“I tried a couple of times here. I lost the final in 2016,” Monfils told Dutch national broadcaster NOS courtside. He said it was special to win a tournament that his idol, Arthur Ashe, also won. Ashe won back-to-back titles in Rotterdam in 1975 and ’76.

Unseeded Wawrinka reached the final by beating top-seeded Kei Nishikori in three sets on Saturday.

But the Swiss finally ran out of steam in the final set as Monfils stepped up his game.

“In the third set I was a little bit more aggressive and I go a bit more for my shots, I served bigger and that helped me a lot,” Monfils said.

Wawrinka was going for his 17th career title and second in Rotterdam, after winning in 2015.

It was his first final since the 2017 French Open, where he previously met Monfils in the fourth round.

Monfils also needed three sets to overcome fifth-seeded Daniil Medvedev in the semifinals, but outlasted Wawrinka in a match that took 1 hour, 44 minutes.

After they shared the first two sets, Monfils was more consistent than Wawrinka in the decisive third.

Already trailing 4-2, Wawrinka hit three unforced errors to lose the seventh game and allow Monfils to serve out the match.