Czechs praise team spirit, eye treble
The Czech women's tennis team whetted their appetite for champagne as they lifted the Fed Cup on Sunday, but not their appetite for grand victories.
Moments after winning the trophy for a second straight year, the team decided a treble would actually be nicer.
"It's better to win three times in a row," laughing team captain Petr Pala said.
"We have a great team, the girls take each game with great responsibility, you can see how much they want to achieve something, and that makes the team strong," he said.
The team that has done it a second time comprises world No 8 Petra Kvitova, number 17 Lucie Safarova, and doubles specialists Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka, ranked three and four in the WTA doubles rankings.
They have by now won six Fed Cup ties in a row, and since beating Russia 3-2 in Moscow in 2011 to lift their first trophy, they have never let their matches be decided by the final doubles rubber.
The 22-year-old Kvitova, last year's Wimbledon champion, won 11 straight Fed Cup games before losing to Serbia's Ana Ivanovic in this year's final, weakened by a cold that sapped her energy.
But Safarova was ready to step in for a perfect redemption of her two losses in the Moscow final that have burdened her mentally for a long time.
"I thought, OK, it's going to be my turn this time," a jubilant Safarova said after cruising past Serbia's Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic in straight sets, giving up only nine games in the process.
But Pala has lots more to pick from when singles are concerned.
"The selection is broad," said the captain, who has the choice of seven players from the top 80 of the WTA singles rankings.
These include Hlavackova and Hradecka, who did not get the chance to face Serbia and perhaps clinch a big win in a year in which they had been beaten in the Wimbledon, US Open, WTA Championship and London Olympics finals.
The Czechs have a role model to follow – in 1983-1985, Czechoslovak teams led by Hana Mandlikova and Helena Sukova lifted the Fed Cup three times in a row.
Former Czechoslovakia, which split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, also won the Fed Cup in 1975 and 1988.
"If the team and the locker room atmosphere remain the same as they have been this week and all those years I've been playing the Fed Cup, I think (a treble) is not impossible," said Kvitova.
"It really works with the girls who are here – there hasn't been a single problem since I joined the team," she added.
The Czechs will start their next Fed Cup campaign against Australia at home on February 9-10, and obviously cannot wait to meet again.
"I always look forward to the week and the girls always make it very easy for me," Pala said on Sunday.
"It's a joy to lead this team, whatever the result. I mean, this result was fairly good," he laughed, before praising the modesty of Hradecka, who is planning "to make a special shelf for Fed Cup trophies when I have three."