Fed Cup I Preview: One Petra, No Serena or Sloane... but, finally, a Marion
It's almost time for the first Fed Cup weekend of 2013. Do you know what your Petra is doing? How about your Marion? Well, at least in the case of the latter, for the first FC weekend in nine years, we actually do!
*WORLD GROUP I 1st Round*
Czech Republic (H) def. Australia 3-2 - HCI
CZE: Kvitova, Safarova, Hlavackova, Hradecka
AUS: Stosur, Dellacqua, Gajdosova, Barty
...on home (indoor hard) court, the Czechs open up their '13 attempt to win a third straight FC championship. With her 16-5 career FC singles record, Petra Kvitova should lead the way. While her recent indoor prowess has eroded a bit, along with the rest of her tour results, Petra's FC abilities have not. She rose from her sick bed (bronchitis) to win an important match in the final last year, though she wasn't able to physically run her FC winning streak to eleven matches in her second go. But Lucie Safarova came to the rescue, rounding out her 3-0 '12 record in FC matches to bring home the title. But Safarova was just 8-9 in Fed Cup before last year, so which Safarova will show up this season? Facing an Aussie team with Alicia Molik as coach, away from home, things won't likely be easy. Samantha Stosur, 23-9 in her FC career, has won six straight Fed Cup matches away from Australia. The Kvitova vs. Stosur match might tell the tale of this entire tie. I'll go with Petra there, but with a bit of reservation.
Italy (H) def. United States 4-1 - RCI
ITA: Errani, Vinci, Knapp, Burnett
USA: Lepchenko, Hampton, Oudin, Huber
...no Serena, and no Sloane Stephens, either, when Current Sloane pulled out with an abdominal injury. On red clay in Italy, it would seem like a mismatch now, even without Italian FC legends Schiavone and Pennetta missing from the lineup. But Team Italia's top two singles players are a combined 7-7 in FC matches. Of course, with the top-ranked doubles duo of Errani/Vinci anchoring, Italy likely only needs to win two of the four singles match-ups to secure advancement. As a duo in FC play, Errani & Vinci are 5-0, while Vinci alone sports a 17-0 Fed Cup doubles record. Overall, the pair are on a 27-match clay court winning streak dating back to the spring of 2011.
Russia (H) def. Japan 4-1 - HCI
RUS: Kirilenko, Makarova, Pavlyuchenkova, Vesnina
JPN: Morita, Date-Krumm, Doi, Nara
...Russia arrives with a mostly-unproven FC team -- Kirilenko is 0-2, Makarova 0-1, Pavlyuchenkova 3-3 and Vesnina 1-1 -- that is still heavily favored against a Japanese team making its first appearance in the World Group since 2007. Ayumi Morita, with a twelve-match singles/doubles FC winning streak, leads the Japanese, backed up by 42-year old Kimiko Date-Krumm. KDK is 16-6 in FC singles matches, and last played in a WG tie in, wait for it... 1996! By the way, she went 0-2 (losing to Davenport & Seles) in that semifinal match-up with the U.S., after having put up a singles win over Steffi Graf in the FC quarterfinals.
Serbia (H) def. Slovak Republic 3-2 - HCI
SRB: Ivanovic, Jankovic, Jovanovski, Dolonc
SVK: Cibulkova, Hantuchova, Rybarikova, Cepelova
...fresh off the loss in last year's FC final, the Serbs are back for more. Although, they are minus "good luck charm" Aleksandra Krunic, part of so many of those deciding doubles match wins that got the Serbs to the final. She’s replaced by the higher-ranked, new Serb Vesna Dolonc. This is a match-up of some FC heavy hitters, as all four top singles players have loads of wins: AnaIvo (13-6), JJ (27-9), Cibulkova (16-7) and Hantuchova (27-12). But Hantuchova retired from her match last week in Pattaya, so her status might be in question. The Serbs have gone to Match #5 so often in their climb up the Fed Cup ladder, it's easy to think they might have to do so again. But, this time, it'll be without Krunic, and everything would likely rest on the shoulders of an AnaIvo/JJ pairing. I guess it's a good thing they're on speaking terms now.
*WORLD GROUP II*
Switzerland (H) def. Belgium 3-2 - RCI
SUI: Oprandi, Voegele, Bacsinszky, Sadikovic
BEL: Wickmayer, Flipkens, Van Uytvanck, Bonaventure
...a bit of an upset pick here, as the Swiss team's top-ranked member (Oprandi) has no FC history. This tie might rest on Kirsten Flipkens' performance. While Yanina Wickmayer has a 16-5 FC mark, Flipkens is 8-14.
Argentina (H) def. Sweden 3-2 - RCO
ARG: Ormaechea, Irigoyen, Molinero, Auroux
SWE: Arvidsson, Larsson, Melander, Roma
...Arvidsson (32-21) and Larsson (23-11) make up the most experienced FC duo in action this weekend, but I'll still go with the Argentines on the clay.
Spain (H) def. Ukraine 3-2 - RCO
ESP: Dominguez-Lino, Soler-Espinosa, Torro-Flor, Llagostera-Vives
UKR: Tsurenko, Svitolina, Beygelzimer, Savchuk
...with Conchita Martinez as coach, on red clay in Spain, how could I pick against the Spaniards? Although, Tsurenko and Svitolina might be the two most talented players here.
France (H) def. Germany 3-2 - RCI
FRA: Bartoli, Cornet, Mladenovic, Razzano
GER: Goerges, Lisicki, Groenefeld, Beck
...no, that's not a typo. Marion Bartoli is actually here! After nine years in the French Fed Cup version of the Bastille, Bartoli finally worked out a coaching agreement with the French Federation (and dad/coach Walter) and is on board. Thank coach Amelie Mauresmo for that... and wonder why she couldn't have been brought into the mix a bit earlier, and given Bartoli a chance to play in the Olympics last year. As it is, La Trufflette walks into a leadership role in a tough tie against Germany. It's not an easy go, either. Bartoli has never actually played a FC singles match, and singles #2 Alize Cornet is just 1-8 in hers (#4 Virginie Razzano is 9-3). But Julia Goerges and Sabine Lisicki, 2-5 and 4-5, respectively, have little winning Fed Cup history, either. This might be the best of all the ties this weekend.
No predictions here, as much play occurs in Group I zones for Europe/Africa, the Americas and Asia/Oceania, along with a bit in Group II Asia/Oceania. Some of the players is action will include Laura Robson and Heather Watson, another Chinese team without any big names, a Kazakh team with quite a few (Shvedova, Pervak, Voskoboeva and Karatantcheva, looking to kick-start a run for what might be a true FC force in a year or two), as well as, well, you know...
So, The Radwanska will be watching over things. Be prepared for anything.
All for now.