Over the recent years, the Fed Cup has been marked more by who is absent rather than who is playing. With a Premier level event taking place in Paris directly after Fed Cup weekend, it is understandable that many players would skip out to focus on their individual accomplishments. Nonetheless, this year 5 of the top 10 players are competing for their countries, indicating that many of the best players still find the honor of Fed Cup competition worth the schedule distration.
Perennial favorites Russia have once again fielded the strongest team, boasting #4 Elena Dementieva, #7 Svetlana Kuznetsova, former #6 Anna Chakvetadze, and breakout star Alisa Kleybanova. They will be the clear favorites to take the Fed Cup again unless the Williams sisters have a change of heart about playing for the US in a later round.
In the World Group II, Serbia is sending both #3 Jelena Jankovic and #8 Ana Ivanovic. Serbia is not eligible to win the title in 2009, but with this team they could position themselves well for a 2010 run at the title. Fellow top-ten player Agnieszka Radwanska is also participating for Poland in the regional zones this week, positioning them well to advance to the World Groups next year.
Play in the lower regional tiers began earlier in the week, but the World Group and World Group II begin this weekend with some fascinating matchups scheduled. Here is a quick rundown of what to expect in these 8 ties:
Czech Republic vs. Spain
This should be a very close tie. The Czech Republic will be represented by the solid Benesova, the talented prodigy Kvitova, and the powerful Safarova, and on their best days this team could be something special. Spain will be lead by Suarez Navarro, the Australian Open Quarterfinalist, who looks to be the favorite in her singles matches. I expect these two teams to split the singles and put the pressure on the doubles, where veteran Kveta Peschke may give Czech Republic the slight edge.
Prediction: Czech Republic 3-2
USA vs. Argentina
The US is bringing a depleted team to Arizona, with the Williams sisters declining to play and Bethanie Mattek out with a hip injury. The Argentine team will be lead by Gisela Dulko, who certainly has the talent to beat this US team. The deciding factor may be the play of Argentina’s #2 Betina Jozami. If she can come up with wins against Craybas or Ditty, she can put Argentina over the top, but the veterans on the US team may be just too strong for her.
Prediction: USA 3-2
France vs. Italy
This should be another exciting showdown and may hinge on who gets selected to play singles for Italy. Schiavone is not playing well, but Pennetta and Errani may be able to put up a challenge in singles against Cornet and Mauresmo. Nonetheless, Cornet’s talent and Mauresmo’s experience will probably lead France to a victory over Italy. This is an unfortunate draw, as Italy would be the heavy favorites against most of the other teams.
Prediction: France 4-1
Russia vs. China
With full squads, this would be an interesting tie, but China is without Li, Zheng, and Peng. Yan, Zhang, and Sun will be no match for favorites Russia, who are sending another impressive team. Russia is clearly the class of the Fed Cup field and will move through easily.
Prediction: Russia 5-0
World Group II
Slovakia vs. Belgium – Belgium is not the power it used to be, and Cibulkova and Hantuchova should lead Slovakia to a comfortable victory.
Prediction: Slovakia 5-0
Switzerland vs. Germany – The power games of Lisicki and Groenefeld for Germany should be enough to get past the slumping veteran Schnyder and the Switzerland team.
Prediction: Germany 4-1
Serbia vs. Japan – With two top 10 players, Serbia would seem to be the clear favorites here, but the performances of Ivanovic and Jankovic in Australia were less than stellar. Nonetheless, while Ai Sugiyama is certainly capable of pulling off an upset, the Japanese team is probably not deep enough to legitimately challenge Serbia.
Prediction: Serbia 4-1
Ukraine vs. Israel – Neither Peer or Obziler have been in great form lately, but at the same time the Bondarenko sisters are notoriously inconsistent. Based on recent form, though, Ukraine have to be the favorite team to advance.
Prediction: Ukraine 4-1