The best coaches are well-liked, extremely experienced and greatly respected, and it looks like freshly appointed Fed Cup captain Kathy Rinaldi is all of that and more.
I met Rinaldi once, for a brief practice in South Florida years ago when I was a junior. She struck me as a no-BS type of player and coach—saying things exactly as she saw them, assessing talent and strokes quickly, and not wasting your time or hers, on or off the court. It was fairly intimidating at the time. There’s no doubt that that type of persona will do well on the biggest stages when the pressure is on.
It helps that the 49-year-old is a former world No. 7, and was once the youngest player to win a match at Wimbledon (at just 14). She even beat Steffi Graf in one of the three WTA finals she won. While Rinaldi boasts an impressive playing resume, it’s her coaching one that resonates most when it comes to the United States’ Fed Cup future.
Rinaldi may not have been a Fed Cup player during her competing days, but she has experience with the American team. As a coach, she led the under-16 junior Fed Cup squads to titles in 2012 and 2014. That most recent Fed Cup title-winning team—just America’s third ever—included CiCi Bellis, who will very likely compete on a Fed Cup team one day. If it happens, it’ll be a perfect example of Rinaldi’s lengthy career coming full circle.
Rinaldi has coached American juniors of all ages, working in USTA player development since 2008. She has the potential to relate to players of all levels and ages, having risen from a preteen training in Florida to a WTA champion. When you’re leaning on a coach, especially for the first time, it helps to know that they’ve been there, too.
Thanks to her immersed involvement in tennis, Rinaldi has some very strong relationships to back her up, with the players themselves—some from a young age—and with their respective USTA coaches.
“I have known Madison Keys since she was 14, so I really know everybody when it comes to the top players,” Rinaldi told the Tennis Channel’s Steve Flink earlier this year. “I have had great support from them. I look to support all of these girls and women, and I truly care about them on and off the court. They have given me so much and have touched my life greatly.”
It was impossible to miss the players’ excitement when news of Rinaldi’s appointment broke last December.
HBIC in the house! Congrats Kathy for being named the new @USFedCupTeam captain— CoCo Vandeweghe (@CoCoVandey) December 8, 2016
Congrats Kathy!!! So well deserved! https://t.co/whNICSRs9t— Christina McHale (@ChristinaMcHale) December 9, 2016
Kathy Rinaldi trending!!! New @USFedCupTeam Captain! Congrats Kathy, outstanding person for the job! Hope to be playing for you soon!— Shelby Rogers (@Shelby_Rogers_) December 8, 2016
Two of those players will be on the team this weekend against Germany in Hawaii. (The roster features CoCo Vandeweghe, Shelby Rogers, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Alison Riske.) The public and vocal love for Rinaldi is just another plus buoying the 2017 Fed Cup season. (Mary Joe Fernandez got her fair share of adoration, too, when she announced that she was stepping down.)
Still, the task at hand appears daunting. The United States hasn’t won a Fed Cup title since 2000, and wasn’t even in World Group play last year. The biggest struggle is recruiting the top players—namely Venus and Serena Williams—and for the first round, Rinaldi will also have to do without Keys, who has been recovering from wrist surgery.
With American women doing better in recent years—16 are inside the Top 100—they’re benefiting from plenty of depth. Vandeweghe is at a career-high ranking of No. 20, Riske started her year off with a final appearance in Shenzhen, Rogers stunned Simona Halep in Melbourne and Mattek-Sands is ranked No. 1 in doubles. That’s not a bad front to present against a German team that’s lacking Angelique Kerber.
The U.S. men kicked off the Davis Cup season with a 5-0 pummeling of Switzerland. Now it’s the Fed Cup team’s turn to try to start things on the same high note when play begins on Friday.