Countries are now given more chances to compete at the highest level of tennis, with the new format of Fed Cup kicking in this year. Immediately after the Australian Open, players will be representing their countries to compete in the qualifiers for the final showdown held in Budapest two months later.
A mouth-watering clash will see powerhouses United States take on Latvia, whose forces in singles have been formidable over the recent years. Both teams have fielded strong teams, with the Americans have a strong batch of players to choose from.
It will be a first-time meeting between both countries, and this tie will be held at the Angels of the Winds Arena in Washington. The surface will be indoor hard courts, hence this could be beneficial to the American players, who thrive on the faster courts.
United States’ line-up: Serena makes her return
With 17 Americans inside the top-100 of the world currently, captain Kathy Rinaldi is spoilt for choices. The legendary Serena Williams was selected for her eleventh Fed Cup tie as she looks to lead her country into the Fed Cup Finals, hoping to extend her unbeaten singles record in the event.
Australian Open champion and currently the highest-ranked American, Sofia Kenin will compete in her fourth Fed Cup tie as she hopes to keep her run going in front of a home crowd. She has also confirmed in an Instagram post that her next competition will be this tie, hence removing the possibility of a withdrawal, which would have been completely understandable otherwise.
The line-up also includes world number 18, Alison Riske, making her fifth appearance for the team. The American is in impressive form after a breakthrough season, entering the top-20 for the first time in her career. 15-year-old Cori Gauff will make her Fed Cup debut as she was included in the team, being the second-youngest player to ever make the American roster.
Lastly, Bethanie Mattek-Sands is named in the team and with her wealth of experience in doubles, her doubles proficiency could help the team in the deciding rubber if needed.
Latvia’s line-up: Full strength team hopes to pull off the upset
Facing an uphill battle after the draw was made, Latvia was determined to pull off an upset as they fielded their best possible line-up. 2018 US Open semifinalist Anastasija Sevastova headlines the team, although she has been in poor form recently after starting the year with three consecutive first-round losses.
2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko will need to play at her best level to defeat the higher-ranked American players, but she will be experienced in dealing with the pressure having competed in 25 Fed Cup ties in her career.
Latvia would need to hope for upsets in the singles rubbers in order for any chance of victory, with 27-year-old veteran Diana Marcinkevica being a back-up choice in the singles rubbers as well. Marcinkevica has competed in 32 ties since 2009 but gathered an overall 8-18 win-loss record in singles, most notably bringing former top-10 player Julia Goerges to three sets last year.
19-year-old youngster Daniela Vismane is the last player nominated for Latvia, having been a regular player for the team over the past few years though she has been mainly competing in doubles only.
Prediction: United States d. Latvia
Both Latvian top singles players are currently in unpredictable form, and the Americans would definitely take advantage after having the Australian Open champion in store. No matter what could happen over the two days, it should be the Americans who will triumph.