Home-court advantage doesn’t begin to explain the edge the U.S. Fed Cup team has heading into this weekend’s matchup against Sweden. Not only will the Swedes have to contend with No. 1 Serena Williams, No. 16 Sloane Stephens, No. 21 Venus Williams and No. 27 Varvara Lepchenko, but they’ll have to play in the backyard of three of the four American players.
The Delray Beach Tennis Center is the site of the Fed Cup World Group playoff Saturday and Sunday, which means the Williams sisters and Stephens will be a short drive away from their homes. Stephens has a home in Coral Springs, and the Williams sisters share a house in Palm Beach Gardens.
The U.S. never has lost a match in three previous Fed Cup events in Florida, going 15-0 as it swept Belgium in 2005 and 2007 in Delray Beach and Austria in 1995 in Aventura.
Serena Williams, at 31 the oldest No. 1 in recent history, is coming off back-to-back victories at the Sony Open in Key Biscayne and the Charleston, S.C., tournament. She is 11-0 in Fed Cup matches and has won 15 Grand Slam titles. The Williams sisters have won a combined 93 singles titles.
That is bad news for Sweden, whose team is comprised of No. 54 Sofia Arvidsson, No. 66 Johanna Larsson, No. 445 Hilda Melander and No. 431 Sandra Roma.
The winner of this best-of-5 match series will compete in the World Group in 2014, and the loser is relegated to World Group II.
“I am really excited about the team that we have for this World Group playoff,” U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez said. “With all four women ranked in the top 30 and Serena playing as the No. 1 player in the world, we have great talent and depth, which is a perfect combination. We are looking forward to bringing some great tennis to Delray Beach, a city that has a strong history of supporting Fed Cup, and we know we can count on the crowd to give us that homecourt edge.”
Ticket prices for the two-day packages are $70 and $120. Prices for individual sessions are $40 and $65. They can be purchased via www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 888-334-USTA (8782). All matches will be broadcast live on Tennis Channel.
• Mulloy honored: Former U.S. No. 1 and five-time Grand Slam title winner Gardnar Mulloy will be honored Thursday with a street naming at the corner of 800 NW Ninth Ave. in Miami. The ceremony will take place at 3 p.m.
Mulloy, 99, was the top-ranked American in 1952. That year, he reached the French Open quarterfinals and the U.S. Championship (now U.S. Open) final. Over his career, he won five Grand Slam doubles titles, four at the U.S. Championships (1942, ’45-46, ’50) and one at Wimbledon (1957). He reached two finals at the French Open (1951-52). His longtime doubles partner was Billy Talbert.
“The street naming is more than an honor to my dad, but a tribute to our entire family,” his daughter, Diane Mulloy, said. “My grandparents were pioneers of Miami, and the street behind the home that my dad grew up in on Northwest North River Drive is the street that they are naming [signing] after him.”
Mulloy was inducted in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1972 and in 1981 was inducted into the USTA Florida Hall of Fame. A 1936 graduate of the University of Miami, he returned to coach the men’s team and recruited eventual fellow great Pancho Segura to play for the Hurricanes. He competed well into his 90s, representing the U.S. on the senior circuit.
Isner breakthrough: John Isner came up with a breakthrough, just in time for the European clay season.
The 27-year-old American, who had struggled this year, last Sunday won the U.S. Men’s Clay Court Championship in Houston with a 6-3, 7-5 win over top-seeded clay specialist Nicolas Almagro in the final. He set a tournament record with 64 aces, breaking Pete Sampras’ record of 60 set in 2002.
He requested a wild card into the Monte Carlo tournament this week. Isner has done well on clay in the past. He won Davis Cup matches on red clay over Roger Federer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga last season. In 2011, he took Rafael Nadal to five sets in the second round of the French Open.
“I’ve always known I could play well on clay,” Isner told reporters Sunday. “This week is a little surprising, as Monday was the first day I hit a ball on clay since September. I knew it was going to be a tough adjustment and that I had to find a way to get through my first match [a 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 victory over Ryan Harrison]. My second match was really close. I felt I played better each and every round.”