WASHINGTON: The United States aims to prove again that they can thrive without Serena and Venus Williams when they tackle France for a place in a second consecutive Fed Cup final this weekend.
In 2017, the US won the tournament for the 18th time with a nerve-racking 3-2 victory over Belarus which was only decided in the last doubles rubber when CoCo Vandeweghe and Shelby Rogers claimed the winning point.
The Williams sisters did not feature in that final in Minsk but they returned to national colours in February this year in a first-round victory over the Netherlands which set-up this weekend’s clash in France.
“I’m very confident that we can make it to another final,” Vandeweghe told fedcup.com ahead of the tie on indoor clay at Aix-en-Provence.
“We have a lot of depth in our squad. From the singles players to the doubles, I think we have come together really well.”
The American team boast world number nine and US Open champion Sloane Stephens, 13th-ranked Madison Keys, Vandeweghe, who is at 16 in the rankings and doubles specialist Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
France, two-time Fed Cup champions, will be led by world number 20 Kristina Mladenovic but other team members Pauline Parmentier and Amandine Hesse are a modest 122 and 204 respectively.
The hosts are without world number seven Caroline Garcia and 35th-ranked Alize Cornet who is facing a disciplinary probe after allegations she missed three drugs tests.
Adding to their problems is that Mladenovic is carrying a back injury.
“If Kiki plays like she can, if Pauline can raise her level of play, at least repeat what she does in training, then we have our chances,” said France captain Yannick Noah before adding, “the barrier is very high”.
Vandeweghe is on a 13-match win streak in the Fed Cup and has not been defeated in three years in the tournament.
“The Fed Cup has been extremely important for me both as a player and a person,” said the 26-year-old New Yorker. “It’s my number one priority to play for my country.”
The US has won 11 of 13 Fed Cup meetings against France. However, the French have won two of the nations’ most recent three meetings.
Parmentier will open against Stephens on Saturday before Mladenovic tackles Vandeweghe.
In the other semi-final, Germany host 10-time champions Czech Republic on clay in Stuttgart.
Germany have only beaten the Czechs once in eight meetings and that was back in 1987 in Vancouver.
Germany feature world number 11 Julia Georges and 12th-ranked Angelique Kerber, a former two-time Grand Slam champion.
However, the Czechs boast similar firepower with world number six Karolina Pliskova and 10th-ranked Petra Kvitova, a double Wimbledon champion, leading the challenge in the singles.
Kvitova starts the semi-final on Saturday against Georges with whom she enjoys a 4-1 career lead, including two wins in 2018 already while Kerber is 7-3 against Pliskova.
The Czech squad are bidding to reach the final for the sixth time in the last eight years.
Fed Cup semi-finals:
At Stuttgart (indoor clay; Saturday 1000 GMT start; Sunday 0900 GMT))
Germany v Czech Republic
At Aix-en-Provence (indoor clay; Saturday 1200 GMT start; Sunday 1100 GMT)
France v United States