Serena Williams reacts during the women’s singles final of the U.S. Open against Bianca Andreescu on Sept. 7, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

Serena Williams reacts during the women’s singles final of the U.S. Open against Bianca Andreescu on Sept. 7, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez)

Fed Cup captain recruiting top players for match in Everett

Kathy Rinaldi is hoping Serena Williams, among others, will be available for the event on Feb. 7-8.

By Scott Hanson / The Seattle Times

Fed Cup captain Kathy Rinaldi has come to the Seattle area this week with a message for fans: The U.S. team needs you.

The Americans are playing against Latvia on Feb. 7-8 at Angel of the Winds Arena in Everett, and the stakes are high as the teams will be battling for a spot in the event’s new format: a 12-team “World Cup of Tennis” from April 14-19 in Budapest, Hungary.

Home-court advantage is huge in international events, with flag-waving fans bringing much more intensity and passion than a regular tour event.

“Let’s get everybody out there Friday night (Feb. 7),” Rinaldi said Monday. “We play Friday and Saturday and we really need people to come out and support us that first night, Friday night. I know we picked Everett because it has a great vibe for tennis and there is a lot of history and we just really want people to come out and support us.”

The big question is who will be on the five-player team Rinaldi will bring to Everett? She has been talking with all of the top American players, including Serena Williams, who has won 23 majors and last played in the Fed Cup in 2018.

Rinaldi said Williams, who at No. 10 is the top American in the WTA rankings, was receptive to the possibility of playing in Everett.

“Obviously, she has to look at the schedule and it has to make sense for her,” Rinaldi said. “But I know she is a big believer in Fed Cup. She came back and played in 2018 and she was great to have on the team. She was amazing with the players and the fans and was just a great team player.”

Rinaldi has to announce her team no later than 10 days before the first match Feb. 7, but hopes to make it public before that. She will have a tough decision, with the country’s top players eager to be on the team.

Besides Williams, other top players Rinaldi is looking at are Madison Keys and Sonya Kenin, ranked No. 13 and No. 14 in the world, respectively. Both were on the U.S. team the past two years. Sloane Stephens, who won the U.S. Open in 2017 and is ranked No. 24, has represented the U.S. the past four years in the Fed Cup.

Other potential members include Alison Riske, ranked No. 21 and a Fed Cup player from 2014-18, CoCo Vandeweghe, who was the MVP for the U.S. in the team’s 2017 championship, and Coco Gauff, the 15-year-old sensation who Rinaldi said is “champing at the bit” to play in the Fed Cup.

Others are also in consideration, and Rinaldi said many factors will play into her final decision including health, current form, the opponent, the surface, camaraderie and the ability to play in high-pressure situations.

“The players take it seriously and there is a lot of pressure on them,” said Rinaldi, who was ranked as high as No. 7 in the world as a singles player. “They leave their heart and soul out on that court to represent their country and that’s why it is so important for us to have the community behind us wherever we play because it helps the players to feel that support.”

Rinaldi set a high bar when the U.S. won the Fed Cup for the first time since 2000 (but record 18th time overall) in her first year as captain in 2017. The Americans lost in the finals to the Czech Republic in 2018 and lost to Australia in the quarterfinals last year.

To have a chance to win again, the Americans will need to dispatch Latvia, which Rinaldi warns will be no easy task. Expected to be part of Latvia’s team are Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion, and Anastasija Sevastova, ranked No. 30 in the world.

“It’s a big match, and it’s a tough match,” Rinaldi said. “It’s going to be great tennis.”

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