By Ashley Marshall, USTA.com
CoCo Vandeweghe sent Team USA into the Fed Cup semifinals for the first time in seven years after rallying past Germany’s Andrea Petkovic in Maui, Hawaii, on Sunday afternoon.
In a battle of each nation’s top player, Vandeweghe won 10 straight games after receiving a medical timeout in the second set to topple the former world No. 9, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 at Hawaii’s Royal Lahaina Resort.
The victory, which followed Alison Riske’s straight-sets victory over Petkovic and Vandeweghe’s win over Julia Goerges on a rain-interrupted Day 1 Saturday, gave the U.S. an unassailable 3-0 lead in the best-of-five World Group first-round contest in new U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi's first tie at the helm.
The final score of the tie would be 4-0, after the U.S. prevailed in the doubles.
"I'm extremely proud of every player here," Rinaldi said. "It's just been an incredible week. Being back here in Hawaii has been amazing. We've had tough conditions, but the players never complained once. We had a great week of practice. Everybody got what they needed. We had a great balance of tennis and fun.
"When I called, I knew these girls were going to leave it out on the court, because when I called them they were quick to say they wanted to play. It's been an amazing week, and I thank them for their support. I couldn't be more proud."
Following the sweep, Riske’s match, scheduled against Goerges, did not take place. World No. 1 doubles player Bethanie Mattek-Sands then teamed with Shelby Rogers to face Laura Siegemund and Carina Witthoeft in the dead doubles rubber. The U.S. took an early 4-1 lead in the first set of the doubles before the Germans retired due to a right elbow injury by Siegemund.
Team USA will next play the Czech Republic in a matchup of the two most successful countries in Fed Cup history. The U.S. has won a record 17 Fed Cup championships, while the Czechs have won 10, including four of the past five.
The semifinal tie will take place April 22-23, with the U.S. hosting.
"Obviously Czech Republic is a very strong, tough team," Rinaldi said. "They have many, many great players. We're going to enjoy this one. We're going to look forward to playing them at home and have the home-court advantage. Again, we'll put together a strong team. I believe in all our American players. They're doing great. They started off 2017 extremely strong. We're going to go for it."
The U.S. is 9-2 all-time against the Czechs. The last time the two countries played was on the road in the 2009 semifinal, with the U.S. rallying from 2-1 down to win 3-2 and book its place in the final against Italy. Team USA last hosted the Czechs in 2003, in a first-round tie in Lowell, Mass., sweeping the tie 5-0. That team was led by Serena and Venus Williams, each of whom won two singles matches before teaming up to win the doubles rubber.
The former Czechoslovakia’s two wins came in the 1985 final in Japan and the 1983 semifinal in Switzerland, both best-of-three ties.
The U.S. last reached the semifinals of this competition in 2010, the last of six consecutive final four appearances for the Americans from 2005 and 2010. Team USA won its most recent Fed Cup title in 2000.
Sunday’s play was originally scheduled to feature the conclusion of the second match of the tie, between Vandeweghe and Julia Goerges. The match was suspended Saturday evening due to rain with the American up a set and break, but Goerges was forced to retire before play resumed Sunday morning.
That meant Vandeweghe, who was on the docket to play three matches Sunday, was relatively fresh for her contest with Petkovic, who had won the previous three matches between the pair.
Vandeweghe twice led by a break in the opening set, but Petkovic secured breaks of her own in Vandeweghe’s first, third and fourth service games to win Germany’s first set of the tie in 42 minutes.
Petkovic kept up the pressure after the interval, and Vandeweghe received treatment for heat illness during a medical timeout before she came out to serve at 2-4. After saving two break points to hold serve, Vandeweghe, who was wrapped in towels containing bags of ice at the changeover, won the next three games to send the match into a decisive third set. It was the first set Vandeweghe had won against Petkovic in eight sets over four matches.
Entering the tie, Germany had never recovered from an 0-2 Fed Cup deficit before, while the U.S. had never squandered a 2-0 lead. Both trends continued as Vandeweghe found a way to outlast a visibly frustrated Petkovic, who, at one point in the second set, was just five points away from sending this tie to a meaningful fourth rubber.
The German won just 13 points in total in the third set, which lasted 30 minutes and came to a conclusion when Vandeweghe capitalized on her third match point, backing up a cross-court forehand with a deft backhand drop shot. When Petkovic was unable to return the ball, Vandeweghe dropped to her knees and was embraced on court by Rinaldi.
"It's really a team effort," Vandeweghe said. "It's a home tie for a reason. I think that was a big motivating factor for me to come out there and represent my country. I don't really need much of a reason more to give everything I have out there on the court. That was kind of it."