Australia, 23 October 2019 | Casey Dellacqua

As a tennis player, you spend so many weeks throughout the year competing by yourself. Even though you are always representing your country, specifically playing for your country is a different experience.

That is what made Fed Cup so special for me.

It felt great to have your teammates on the sidelines cheering you on. Of course there was sometimes extra pressure from wanting to perform for your team and country — but it was also special to have your teammates pushing you to play as well as you could. Win or lose, you knew that they had your back. It was really nice.

When I look back on my career, many of my best memories are from Fed Cup. I loved representing my country. Getting to spend a week training and competing alongside my friends in a team environment made it extra special.

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‘Remember that time I was by myself in some random country, not doing much’ does not make a great story. It is my Fed Cup memories that I remember most and love talking about, often from the off-court fun we would have.

I have so many funny stories from when I first started playing with the likes of Rennae Stubbs, Alicia Molik, Nicole Pratt and Sam Stosur. We’d have great times out dancing and celebrating together after winning ties. I’ve also played with Alicia as my captain and alongside a lot of younger girls, like Ash Barty and Daria Gavrilova. There’s so many great memories.

One of the team traditions is a crazy hat dinner on the Friday night before a tie. All team members have to bring a unique hat to wear — and there’s been some ripper ones. It’s great to look back on our photos now and laugh about these nights.

The official pre-tie dinners are always a lot of fun too. We’d all get ready together and do each other’s hair as we got dressed up. Little things like this were very different to a regular week on tour.

Another team tradition is getting the orange girl to make a speech during these official dinners. This is something I always found very special – my own experience of doing this back in 2002 has always stuck in my mind.

My Fed Cup initiation

I was 18 when I was an orange girl for a World Group qualifying round against Colombia in Wollongong in 2003. The team was Alicia Molik, Nicole Pratt, Rennae Stubbs and Sam Stosur, with Evonne Goolagong Cawley the captain.

The team tradition at the time was that we had to write poems about each other to read at the official dinner. I still have the poem that Pratty wrote about me in one of my keepsake boxes.

I remember being overwhelmed by the whole experience, but left the tie thinking that’s something that I want — to be picked in every Fed Cup tie from now on. That experience of being an orange girl instilled a real love of the Fed Cup competition and representing Australia, which is something that Alicia continues to do with the current team. Girls like Priscilla Hon and Kim Birrell have been orange girls and now aspire to be in the team regularly.

It is great to see and is why we are having so much success.

Team values

I was very, very lucky to have such good mentors and role models that made me understand what it meant to play for my country. I am grateful I played with players such as Alicia Molik, Nicole Pratt and Rennae Stubbs. Those three in particular were instrumental in shaping my commitment to Fed Cup. They taught me great team values, which was always something that I wanted to pass on as well. I think it is important to share everything you have learnt, so I loved being able to support Ash (Barty) and Dasha (Gavrilova) early in their Fed Cup careers.

Now having Alicia as captain and leading the way is great. She’s doing an amazing job. She’s created an amazing team environment, not only for Fed Cup weeks but throughout the year too. She is very approachable and the players know she’s there whenever they need her. She’s got everyone’s back. All our girls – even Ash who is the world No.1 – are dying to play Fed Cup. You can see how much it means to them and that’s a big hats off to Alicia for creating that team culture.

Ash has really stepped up as a leader on court this year, but that hasn’t surprised me at all. When we first played Fed Cup together many years ago, she was only really young but it was an opportunity she really valued.

We’ve had many conversations about how important Fed Cup is and I’m glad she’s become a leader of the team. She’s the perfect person for it and we are in the final this year because she has led the way and won all her matches. She loves playing Fed Cup and you can’t put a price on that commitment. She’s now helping the other girls in the team and will be there for many years to come to pass on everything she learns.

Home court advantage

Crowd support is important in Fed Cup. It is a competition where you are really allowed to get behind your team, which is rare in tennis. I can remember many ties we’ve played overseas where we only had a handful of people cheering for us and you do notice it when the crowd is not on your side.

I’ve played in ties in the Ukraine and Czech Republic where the crowds were so loud and were playing drums after every point, which made it tough.
That is why hosting this year’s final in Australia is a massive advantage. Playing at home can mean extra pressure but I think our girls, and Ash particularly who’s had great success in Australia, will embrace that.

If the final was in France they would have a loud crowd on their side, so I think having it in Australia is definitely going to be an advantage for us.

To read the full article, see the October-November edition of Australian Tennis Magazine

Show your support as Australia aims to win its first Fed Cup title in 45 years in Perth from 9-10 November. Tickets are now on sale.