The season’s second weekend of Fed Cup is nearly upon us, with 10 ties being contested in three different sectors that will determine the landscape of Fed Cup next year. The first group is the World Group Semifinals. These four teams are already safe to play in the World Group next year, and their sole focus now is winning the 2009 Fed Cup title. The first tie pits Italy against Russia in what would ostensibly seem to be a fairly easy walk for Russia that could turn very competitive. Italy has fielded their best possible team led by top-20 player Flavia Pennetta and last weeks’ Barcelona winner Roberta Vinci. Russia suffered a setback with Vera Zvonareva’s ankle injury, meaning they will counter with Svetlana Kuznetsova and Nadia Petrova in singles, both of whom are slumping. The red clay surface also favors Italy more so than the Russian team, which could further harm Russia title defense chances. Russia is still the favorite, but it could be closer than it would originally seem.
The other semifinal will be the USA vs. Czech Republic. The match will be an uphill climb for the United States as they have to use one of their untested youngsters Melanie Oudin or Alexa Glatch in singles. It will likely be up to the class of the team Bethanie Mattek-Sands to win both of her singles and partner with Liezel Huber in doubles to scrape out a 3-2 victory. This task will be made all the more difficult by the formidable Czech squad led by Iveta Benesova and Lucie Safarova. Both players are capable of producing exceptional tennis and would be a challenge for the US team under the best of circumstances.
The next section of matches are the World Group Playoffs, with the winners entering the World Group in 2010 and the losers being relegated to World Group II. Three of these ties look to be quite competitive, the exception being Ukraine who should easily oust a depleted Argentina team. Serbian superstars Ivanovic and Jankovic will have to fend off Spain’s Medina Garrigues and Martinez Sanchez. France and Slovakia will each pit one veteran (Mauresmo and Hantuchova) against a young hope (Cornet and Cibulkova) in what will be a complete toss-up. China was rocked by the injury withdrawal of Li Na, but they still have Zheng and Peng to go up against Groenefeld and the streaking Lisicki for Germany in the final tie of the group.
The other section is World Group II Playoffs, with the winners becoming part of World Group II and the losers returned to their respective regions for 2010. Here, Estonia, led by Kaia Kanepi will be the slight favorites over the slumping Israeli players. Poland should not have too many problems with Japan, and Australia should be in a similar situation against Switzerland, provided Jelena Dokic finds her form again. Belgium is also taking on Canada which could be quite interesting as Ponte Vedra finalist Aleks Wozniak leads her Canadian team against the slumping Belgians Wickmayer and Flipkens.