FC II Preview: A Cupping They Will Go
Yes, Bogota drew the short straw for Week 15 as the lone tour-level event on the schedule leading up to the season's second Fed Cup weekend. But, that's all right, SOMEONE will win a title in a few days. And that's good. Right?
Last year's "unlucky winner" at this same point was Donna Vekic in Kuala Lumpur. The teenager experienced the excitement of claiming her first-ever tour title in Malaysia last April. Sure, the bottom has totally dropped out of her game since then, as she's gone 9-23 and hasn't advanced past the 2nd Round at any event. But, hey, those are only tiny details. I'm sure the Tennis Gods had nothing to do with it.
Speaking of details. On the upcoming Fed Cup semifinal weekend, this might be the only thing that matters:
But Alize is surely hoping that the power of the alligator -- and Amelie -- will make the difference in Ostrava.
Petko has her priorities in order for Sochi, and Sabine is happy to be there.
She should be. After all, the Hordettes are suddenly holding tryouts for an open roster space.
Should be interesting...
France at Czech Republic - Ostrava/HCI
CZE: Kvitova, Ka.Pliskova, Safarova, Zahlavova-Strycova
FRA: Cornet, Garcia, Mladenovic, Parmentier
...well, Amelie. What have ya got for us this time? Truth is, even Mauresmo might not have enough rabbits to pull out of the hat to win this one (and, hey, "the rabbit died" just the other day, so there's one MORE less). Cornet was nursing a thigh injury last week, so Garcia and Mladenovic may have to lead the way again. It worked in February vs. France, but these are the Czechs in Ostava. (Anyone hearing an echo? ... "The Italians. On clay. It Italy"... yep.) As usual, this tie will rest on whether we see Good Petra, or Bad Petra. Kvitova hasn't been Good Petra since January, but is usually in fine form when she's wearing Czech colors. She's already gotten an early start:
That's probably good news for the Maidens.
PICK: Czech Republic 3-1
"Withdrawing from this weekend's Fed Cup was no easy decision. You probably haven't seen me post any pictures on court, that is simply because there haven't been many. I just started a couple of days ago and going to work myself up to creating a good healthy base.
I will be following the girls on my live stream this weekend, cheering them on, as I try to be ready for next week's tournament in Stuttgart."
Germany at Russia - Sochi/RCI
RUS: Kuznetsova, Pavlyuchenkova, Vesnina, Zvonareva
GER: Petkovic, Kerber, Lisicki, Goerges
...once more, Germany invades Russia. It might be more successful this time. Sharapova was announced for the team, but has since been declared out (maybe that injury theory after Miami was correct?). Germany is trying to reach back-to-back FC finals for the first time since 1982-83 (West Germany, before the reunification), and arrives in Sochi loaded for Russian bear. Petkovic is in form, and has had a week of rest. Kerber just won a clay title in Charleston, and Lisicki looked good during the I.W./Miami swing. Goerges isn't shabby, either, especially indoors. Kuznetsova can become the all-time winningest Russian FC star (her 26 wins is tied w/ Dementieva, Likhovtseva and Makarova), and will have to put the team on her back this time around. It might be too much for even Sveta to handle, but if she can do it (and win another FC for Russia later in the year) she might have made her case as far as being a true Hall of Famer. I'm smelling an "upset" (though, without Maria, it's not), and maybe even the forerunner of Germany's first FC championship since 1992.
PICK: Germany 3-2
*WORLD GROUP PLAYOFFS*
United States at Italy - Brindisi/RCO
ITA: Errani, Pennetta, Giorgi, Knapp
USA: S.Williams, Riske, McHale, Davis
...oh, boy. This could be intense. Mary Joe Fernandez's roster-building skills are pretty dismal, but the Sisters generally throw her a life vest before she gets embarrassed in too many consecutive ties. In February, Venus saved her by going 2-0 after Serena was too ill to compete on Day 2, and the rest of the U.S. roster wasn't equipped to fend for itself on clay on the road vs. a game Argentine team. Venus WAS on this roster, but has pulled out due to personal reasons, replaced by Lauren Davis. Italy isn't Argentina, no matter what happened in February vs. France. On the clay, where Serena will make her '15 debut, Errani, Pennetta and Giorgi will attempt to pull Team Italia back from the brink of FC irrelevence. If Serena can't play the full weekend, the U.S. team will go down in flames and we'll see how many people try to blame the Sisters rather than MJF (we KNOW where the finger would be pointing from this space). Even if she can, though, it's no given. Flavia in Fed Cup Mode isn't something to be trifled with, especially on Italian soil. If it goes to doubles, even if Serena plays, the edge still goes to the Vinci-less Italians. I think Pennetta gets two singles wins (maybe one vs. Williams, maybe not) and the Bannerettes go down. We'll be having a Draw-a-Mustache-on-Mary-Joe Party a Backspin HQ on Sunday night... Galileo is bringing chips-n-dip.
PICK: Italy 3-2 (hopefully the court doesn't have holes in it this time)
Australia at Netherlands - 's-Hertogenbosch/RCI
NED: Bertens, Hogenkamp, Rus, Krajicek
AUS: Stosur, Dellacqua, Gajdosova, Rogowska
...the Aussies are on the road, so that's a check mark in their column. Plus, if Stosur slips some of that Vegemite into the Dutch squad's food they might have to give AUS a walkover win or two. The Netherlands have been a surprising FC force over the last year or so, though, and will be playing in front of a partisan crowd. Australia is just a year away from playing in the semifinals, but this is going to get sticky. I think it goes to the doubles, with Stosur/Dellacqua pulling it out by the skin of their teeth (unless that's just the film left there by eating too much Vegemite, that is).
PICK: Australia 3-2
Switzerland at Poland - Zielona Gora/HCI
POL: A.Radwanska, U.Radwanska, Rosolska, Jans-Ignacik
SUI: Bacsinszky, Oprandi, Golubic, Hingis
...this one is really intriguing. Aga's Fed Cup luster was destroyed by the Russians in February, and now she'll be called upon to take out 2015 star Bacsinszky (an under-the-radar FC star, going 4-1 in singles since her career reboot) in front of another Polish crowd just a week after failing to win a title in Katowice. Can The People's Timea tame any possible Radwanskian threat? Hingis (could she play singles if necessary, maybe even vs. Aga?), making her first FC appearance in seventeen years, might be the key here. She and Bacsinszky could stand as the last line of defense in a deciding doubles match vs. the Rads. I'm thinking it doesn't come to that.
PICK: Switzerland 3-1 (unless Aga goes crazy)
Romania at Canada - Montreal/HCI
CAN: Bouchard, Dabrowski, Fichman, Abanda
ROU: Begu, Dulgheru, Mitu, Olaru
...Bouchard was a late-announced member of this team, while Simona Halep has taken some heat inside Romania for not being here. Her absence COULD put a temporary pause on the Swarmettes' chances to compete for a FC title as early as 2016, but Bouchard's recent lacking form, combined with that of Begu (who saved ROU in February when Halep faltered) and the resurgent Dulgheru (playing her first FC matches since '11) still gives the visiting squad some hope. This pick hinges largely on Bouchard not going 2-0 in singles, as the Canadians might have the slight edge if things go to the doubles. Banking on Canada not being able to get a non-Genie singles point...
PICK: Romania 3-1 (keeping things on schedule)
*WORLD GROUP II PLAYOFFS*
Paraguay at Serbia - Novi Sad/HCI
SRB: Ivanovic, Jankovic, Krunic, Jorovic
PAR: Cepede Royg, M.Gonzalez, Gimenez, Giangreco Campiz
...has the Serbian Good Luck Charm brought her virtual rabbit's foot along with her to Novi Sad? Well, Serbia IS playing at home vs. probably the most beatable of the WG II playoff squads. Make of that what you will. Even if JJ's foot injury from Charleston limits or rules her out (which would open the door for Krunic to get onto the court), AnaIvo is here. And against Paraguay, Serbia might even be able to put youngster Jorovic out there and have as good a shot as any to survive the weekend. Barring chaos (small "c"), this should be Serbia's second straight FC win.
PICK: Serbia 4-0
Sweden at Slovak Republic - Bratislava/RCI
SVK: A.Schmiedlova, Hantuchova, Cepelova, K.Schmiedlova
SWE: Larsson, Celik, Peterson, Allgurin
...the Slovak team -- without or without the injured Cibulkova -- has been struggling lately, losing leads on FC weekends and getting ousted in psychologically browbeating ways. Katowice champ Schmiedlova arrives to seemingly play a large role here, despite having just one FC singles win in her career. The Swedes, without longtime vet Arvidsson, are not to be overlooked. Larsson could get a win (or two), and would be a force in a deciding doubles match with Peterson, as well. I'm tempted to say the Slovak team will stumble again, but the talent is too good to look past in a home tie.
PICK: Slovak Republic 4-1 (unless it goes to doubles, then I'd give SWE the edge)
Belarus at Japan - Tokyo/HCI
JPN: Nara, Doi, Aoyama, Morita
BLR: Azarenka, Govortsova, Sasnovich, Lapko
...hopefully, after what happened in February, Vika's luggage will arrive in Tokyo on time. This one could get interesting if Govortsova doesn't hold up her end, but she's a FC vet (20-7 in singles) and might be able to sneak out a win vs. either Nara or Doi. If it goes to doubles, the Japanese team is armed with specialist Aoyama, but Azarenka & Govortsova are a former junior slam-winning duo (Wimbledon '04).
PICK: Belarus 3-2
Spain at Argentina - Buenos Aires/RCO
ARG: Ormaechea, Irigoyen, Podoroska, Bua
ESP: Arruabarrena, Torro-Flor, Sorribes-Tormo, Medina-Garrigues
...no Muguruza. No CSN. But the Spaniards still might have enough to win on the road. I'm really "iffy" on this pick, but I'll hold my nose and go with Spain anyway.
Zone play has already started, but I'll pick here anyway.
*ZONE PLAYOFFS - ASIA/OCEANIA II - Hyderabad, India (HC)*
POOL A: Philippines(1), Singapore
POOL B: Turkmenistan(2), Kyrgyzstan, Iran
POOL C: India(3), Malaysia, Pakistan
POOL D: Indonesia(4), Sri Lanka, Pacific Oceania
...the winner of Pool A will play the winner of Pool D and the winner of Pool B will play the winner of Pool C following a short round robin. The winners of those matches will play to determine which nation will be promoted to Asia/Oceania Zone Group I in 2016. India (with Sania Mirza serving as a playing Captain) and the Philippines (led by Katharina Lehnert) are the favorites to face off for the promotion, and it's difficult to see anything else happening here. With Ankita Raina and Prarthana Thombare both capable singles players at this level, India is the deeper squad.
PICK TO ADVANCE: India def. Philippines
*ZONE PLAYOFFS - EUROPE/AFRICA III - Ulcinj, Montenegro (RC)*
POOL A: Cyprus, Iceland, Lithuania(1)
POOL B: Greece, Armenia, Montenegro(2)
POOL C: Norway, Algeria, Denmark(3)
POOL D: Moldova, Macedonia, Namibia, Mozambique
...the winners of pools A and B will be drawn against the winners of pools C and D and will play to determine which two nations are promoted to Europe/Africa Zone Group II in 2016. The highlight of the group is the presence of Caroline Wozniacki, but it might be the Greek team that is the deepest of the bunch (with Maria Sakkari, Despina Papamichail, Eleni Daniilidou and Valentini Grammatikopoulou).
PICKS TO ADVANCE: Denmark & Greece
Of course, Caro has been busy putting out unintentional brush fires...
Tweeps I was congratulating Speith on his win, nothing else.. It's time for some of you to move on from the past. Thank you! ??— Caroline Wozniacki (@CaroWozniacki) April 13, 2015
And clearing out her DVR...
Love the fact I have 4 episodes of @Suits_USA to catch up on ?? not moving from the couch anytime soon!— Caroline Wozniacki (@CaroWozniacki) April 13, 2015
Before finally arriving in town.
I'll update my picks before the weekend if late injuries/withdrawals warrant changes, and I'll be back with the FC Day 1 Update on Saturday.
But, first, a final Dinara fix:
One small secret! When I played, I was always keeping on my shoes the plastic thing from the tag, it was for goodluck pic.twitter.com/PPRrmU64wZ— Dinara Safina (@Dinarik27) April 13, 2015
And I still do it!!!!— Dinara Safina (@Dinarik27) April 13, 2015
All for now.