Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Fed Cup II Preview: Dancing with History in the Pale Moonlight

Well, another Fed Cup weekend is here. So it's time to nitpick rosters, the "gut instinct" of captains, and consider all the soon-to-happen moments upon which national fates will rest.

Let's have a closer look at the semifinals and playoff ties to be contested...


United States at France (Aux-en-Provence, FRA - RCI)
USA: Stephens,Keys,Vandeweghe,Mattek-Sands
(Capt: Kathy Rinaldi)
FRA: Mladenovic,Parmentier,Hesse (Capt: Yannick Noah)
...CoCo Vandeweghe, as is her style, is confident as the Bannerettes head into France seeking back-to-back appearances in the FC final for the first time since 2009-10 (the last consecutive U.S. titles came in 1999-00). But should she be? This tie comes down to a battle between surface/site vs. depth. The Pastries are loaded up on the former, while Kathy Rinaldi's bunch can rightfully boast of a huge advantage when it comes to the ladder. 11-2 vs. France in Fed Cup play, though the French won in the last encounter in 2014 (w/ Caroline Garcia having a hand in all three points during the French team's "former life"), the U.S. has numerous options in singles, though none are "sure things." Clay isn't Vandeweghe's best surface, but she's been clutch for Rinaldi, as well as actually quite good on the surface (3-1 ws/3-1 wd) for Team USA. Keys reached the semis in Charleston two weeks ago, while Stephens is probably the most reliable on clay of the three singles players on the roster. Still in her post-U.S. Open trance, Sloane nearly single-handedly brought on the Fall of the House of Rinaldi in last year's final with her struggling-with-the-pressure 0-2 performance vs. Belarus. But Future Sloane returned in Miami. Still, she hasn't played a match on clay since Roland Garros '16. French Captain Yannick Noah has an easy hand to play: straight Kiki. If France is going to reach a second FC final in three years, Mladenovic (8-6 ws/10-2 wd) will likely have to be part of all three wins this weekend, just as she was in February against Belgium. She was Backspin's overall weekend "MVP" for her 3-for-3, jump-on-my-back-and-I'll-bring-us-all-home performance. Her key match three months ago was winning a head-to-head contest with AO semifinalist Elise Mertens, allowing her deciding doubles win with Amandine Hesse to even be possible. With a singles win by another French player (Pauline Parmentier -- LOL, that had *better* not happen, or this weekend's FC goat -- and not G.O.A.T. -- will be wearing stars with her red, white and blue colors) is as close to a "no hope" scenario as any tie played outside of Wollongong, Mladenovic again has zero margin for error, and this time she'll have to knock off a combination of *two* players from a group that includes a slam winner, slam finalist and two-time slam semifinalist, *then* also win in doubles vs. 7-time slam title winner Bethanie Mattek-Sands (probably w/ CoCo) with everything on the line. Even with the crowd on their side, the Pastries wouldn't likely be the favorites in that one.
PICK: USA def. FRA 3-2
...this was the best match-up that the Bannerettes, who were fortunate to avoid the Czech "A"-team in last year's semis, could have hoped for this time around. The Czechs or Germans might be favored against the U.S. if they were on the opposing sideline. If one of the Bannerette singles players can knock off Mladenovic this one will be wrapped up early, but it's safe to assume (but hardly a certainty) that this could go to the doubles. Rinaldi was smart to include the back-from-injury BMS as the veteran/doubles specialist on this roster rather than going with another singles player, something that former captain Mary Joe Fernandez rarely had the forethought to pull off during her time at the helm. It gives the U.S. a final, last ditch chance to lock away a sixth consecutive win (and keep Rinaldi's record spotless at 4-0) if no one can get a win over Kiki in singles. With three opportunities to get this done, it's hard to imagine an 0-for-3 strikeout scenario playing out.

Czech Republic at Germany (Stuttgart, GER - RCI)
CZE: Kvitova,Ka.Pliskova,Strycova,Siniakova
(Capt: Petr Pala)
GER: Goerges,Kerber,Maria,Groenefeld
(Capt: Jans Gerlach)

...are the Czechs, playing in their tenth straight semi and looking to advance to a sixth final in eight years (they're 5-0 in championship ties during the stretch), vulnerable? (Pause.) Well, I wasn't suddenly struck by lightning for even suggesting such a thing, so let's run with it. Since 2011, the Maidens have been forced to the deciding doubles on eight occasions, including in three straight road ties during their last title run in '16. They've gone 7-1. The loss came in last year's semi vs. the U.S. without the usual star-stubbed collection of talent from top to bottom being at the hands of Petr Pala. A roster that would be considered the Czech "A"-team is 7-0 in deciding doubles matches during this run of dominance. The last time such a squad lost at all came in a 2013 SF vs. Italy (3-1). But rarely have they played a German squad like this one. Germany, with new Captain Jans Gerlach, perfectly played the "Cinderella" role in February vs. defending finalist Belarus, with the likes of Tatjana Maria (getting her first FC wins in seven years) taking the lead role, then joining with longtime roster member Anna-Lena Groenefeld in doubles for a 3-2 win. THIS German team is loaded, sporting two Top 12 players, Julia Goerges and Angelique Kerber, as well as the returning Maria and ALG. That's a formidable group, playing at home (though CZE is 9-2 in road ties since '11), on a clay surface that doesn't play into the favor of the top two Maidens (Top 10ers Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova). Kvitova, though she's gone 2-0 vs. Goerges in '18, has gone just 2-3 since her career-best 14-match winning streak earlier this season, which included her turning around her surprising FC slump (she went 0-4 in' 16) with a 2-0 mark in February vs. Switzerland. While Kvitova's match-up with Kerber will be this tie's headline-grabber, the one against Goerges may be the key match. While Kvitova leads 4-1 in their head-to-head, three of the matches have gone three sets, including a 10-8 3rd in FC play claimed by the Czech in 2012. 25-8 in FC play on hard court and carpet surfaces, Petra is just 3-2 on clay. Meanwhile, Pliskova, consistently good but unspectacular in '18, has never played a FC match on the surface. Still, the Czech Republic is 7-1 vs. Germany, having nearly always "found a way" (def. GER in the '14 final) for almost every one of the last seven Fed Cup seasons.
PICK: GER def. CZE 3-2
I'm not sure of the scenario that may play out, but I'm going with the end result. (Don't rule out a Strycova star-turn here, though, possibly in a two-win Sunday performance to pull the Czech hopes away from the ledge and carry the squad to another final.) That's not a hedge, by the way, just an "alternate" possibility.

Slovakia at Belarus (Minsk, BLR - HCI)
SVK: AK.Schmiedlova,Kuzmova,Cepelova,Sramkova (Capt: Matej Liptak)
BLR: Sasnovich,Sabalenka,Lapko,Marozava
(Capt: Tatiana Poutchek)

...last weekend's WTA result turned up the intrigue in this one, though the change in surface from the tour's red clay to an indoor hard court would seem to boost '17 finalist Belarus' possibilities of returning to the World Group for '19. No matter how hard Aryna Sabalenka tried to save the day in February, Belarus still fell hard vs. a Cinderella German team led by a player who hadn't posted a Fed Cup win since 2011 (Tatjana Maria) and another (Antonia Lottner) making her debut. In the tie-turning moment, Lottner shockingly took down '17 FC heroine Aliaksandra Sasnovich. The Belarusians never really recovered, and ultimately lost in the deciding doubles. In their fifth straight home tie, Belarus is led by new/old captain, Tatiana Poutchek. After having the role from 2012-15, during which the team won ten of fourteen ties to get into position for the 2016-17 run under Eduard Dubrov, Poutchek is back to try to add more successful entries to her FC resume. As a player, she leads the nation in ties (45), total wins (37), doubles wins (28) and years on the team (15). Last week, on clay, Sabalenka reached the Lugano final, while she and Vera Lapko (who pushed Maria to three sets in February) were also the doubles runners-up. That experience together could prove valuable if things go to the doubles. Sasnovich will need to rebound for that to happen, though. The Slovaks notched an historic first ever win over Russia three months ago, with Viktoria Kuzmova's maiden career FC victory providing the clinching point. She's back, though it's teammate Anna Karolina Schmiedlova who'll have the most eyes on her. AKS ended her three-year title drought last week in Bogota, winning the crown on the clay. If this one had been played on the dirt, last week's momentum-driven results might provide some real insight into what will happen in Minsk. As it is, though, they could turn out to mean absolutely nothing.
PICK: BLR def. SVK 3-1 of the four (of 10 in WG) FC ties on hard court this weekend, the surface (and on-site support) seems to point to Belarus getting back in the game for 2019. Still waiting for Vika Azarenka's return, if it finally comes next season, a win here might just propel BLR back into another final.

Switzerland at Romania (Cluj-Napoca, ROU - RCI)
SUI: Bacsinszky,Golubic,Teichmann,Schnyder
(Capt: Heinz Gunthardt)
ROU: Halep,Begu,Cirstea,Buzarnescu
(Capt: Florin Segarceanu) front of the oh-so-supportive Romanian crowds, #1 Simona Halep makes her '18 Fed Cup *and* clay court debut. While her Melbourne injuries prevented her from joining her teammates on the court in February's win over Canada, she was courtside in her role as team leader, cheering everyone on. 14-5 in FC play, Halep heads a veteran team vs. the Swiss, with everyone -- Cirstea (11), Begu (7) and Buzarnescu (2, though this is her first tie since '12) -- having notched singles wins for the national team. The Swarmettes are looking to return to FC title contention in '19, having slipped back after falling in the deciding doubles vs. CZE in the 2016 1st Round. After losing three straight ties, Romania seeks a third straight win here to get back into the Top 8. While the Romanians are preparing for another FC run, one wonders if the Swiss missed *their* chance. With Martina Hingis retired, and Belinda Bencic injured *again*, the "dream team" roster potential of the last two seasons may be finished for good (even junior Swiss star Rebeka Masarova is gone, now representing ESP). With the "Big 4" of Bacsinszky, Bencic, Hingis and Viktorija Golubic (2-0 vs. the Czechs in the '16), Switzerland reached back-to-back semifinals in 2016-17, losing to CZE in the deciding doubles and then Belarus a year ago (though Bencic wasn't available in singles that weekend). Captain Heinz Gunthardt had to reach back into history to grab Patty Schnyder (at 39, the oldest roster player in FC this week) to just fill the #4 spot on the squad behind Bacsinszky (20-16/8-5, but 0-3 in '18 and without a singles win of any kind since last year's Wimbledon after a career-threatening hand injury), Golubic and Jill Teichmann.
PICK: ROU def. SUI 4-1
...two years ago this could have been for a spot in the finals. Now, only one will get another chance to aim for a maiden FC title next season. Romania seems far more equipped to dream big.

Netherlands at Australia (Wollongong, AUS - HCI)
NED: Kerkhove,Lemoine,Schuurs,de Vroome
(Capt: Paul Haarhuis)
AUS: Barty,Gavrilova,Stosur,Aiava (Capt: Alicia Molik)
...sometimes the notion of Australia playing at home would be enough to make you nervous. But not here. This tie is unequivocally the biggest mistmatch on the board this weekend. Without their usual FC roster making the trek Down Under for this tie, the Dutch (the '16 semifinalists) have constructed a roster that has a "grand total" of ZERO career singles victories in Fed Cup play. Two players are making their debuts for the national team, while Lesley Kherkove (3-0 doubles) and Demi Schuurs (2-0 doubles) "lead" the team vs. an Aussie team headed up by Ash Barty. In February, Barty joined Kiki Mladenovic as the only players in WG play to have a hand in all three of her team's points. With Barty at the top of the roster, for as long as she commits, this is a different era for Australian Fed Cup. Finally, the women have the fiery equivalent to what Lleyton Hewitt was for AUS Davis Cup. Veteran Sam Stosur is back. While her FC numbers (29-17 s/7-0 d) are impressive, few top players make you as nervous in pressure situations on home soil as she. Now that she doesn't have to be the lead runner, much of that pressure may be off. Dasha Gavrilova has been excitable, but also sometimes shaky, in her short FC career for Australia. She went 0-2 in February's 3-2 win over Ukraine. But she didn't lose to the likes of Svitolina and/or Tsurenko, it was to 16-year old Marta Kostyuk (in her FC debut) and Nadia Kichenok. She can't really be relied upon. Barty can be, though. 'Nuff said.
PICK: AUS def. NED 4-0 it turned out, Casey Dellacqua's final match *was* in Fed Cup play, but it *would* have been nice had she ended it here, likely topping off a dominant, feel-good weekend for Aussie tennis with a final victory lap win over the Dutch. Oh, well.

Belgium at Italy (Genoa, ITA - RCO)
BEL: Mertens,Van Uytvanck,Flipkens,Bonaventure
(Capt: Ivo Van Aken)
ITA: Errani,Paolini,Chiesa,Pieri (Capt: Tathiana Garbin) soon as you think they're out, the Italians pull themselves back in. The funeral dirge has been prepared to play for a while now for the Italian Fed Cup team, now a shadow of its former dominant self, with just one of the original Quartet still in the mix. But it's not as easy to put down Team Italia as it appeared as if it might be sometime last year. Still, fresh off a win over Spain in February in which Sara Errani was strong and newcomer Deborah Chiesa pulled off the sort of gutsy win (saving MP vs. Lara Arruabarrena to clinch) that used to be common for the green-white-and-red, Italy needs yet another win to avoid falling into World Group II in 2019. Standing in their way are the Belgians, the very definition of a team in flux, at least at the top. After losing to the underwomaned French team in February, Captain Dominique Monami was dumped by the Belgian Federation. Replacing her, but only for this one tie, is Ivo Van Aken, the 66-year-old technical director and top sport coordinator of Tennis Vlaanderen. He's stated that he only agreed to lead the team if it was for this one tie, and has stated the need for the Federation to find a "long-term solution." (Hmmm, it's too bad Belgium doesn't have any Hall of Fame former players to take a shot at luring... oh, wait.) Thing is, Belgium's FC prospects look better now than they have since the days of Kim & Justine. Elise Mertens, fresh off claiming singles and doubles (w/ fellow Waffle and teammate Kirsten Flipkens) titles on clay in Lugano, could be a Top 10 player by year's end. Alison Van Uytvanck has won a tour title this year, as well. This might not be a team that could challenge for a title, but it could be a consistent World Group competitor for a few years, with the potential for a one-year run in any given year should Mertens continue to climb the WTA ladder at the rate she has over the past year. She lost the big singles match vs. Kiki Mladenovic on the road vs. France three months ago, and now she'll likely need to correct that misstep here vs. Errani. Again, it's likely the key to victory. Belgium would have the edge should things go to the doubles, but getting there isn't a given now that Chiesa has proven capable of winning big in front of a home crowd.
PICK: BEL def. ITA 3-2
...Italy is 7-0 vs. Belgium in FC play, so this would be another case of history being overturned. It's probably time (overdue) for Italy to begin to fall away. But *someone* has said that before and been wrong. It could happen again, too. But, before the first ball is struck, I'll still go with the "most likely" outcome.

Latvia at Russia (Khanty-Mansiysk, RUS - RCI)
LAT: Ostapenko,Sevastova,Marcinkevica,Vismane
(Capt: Andis Juska)
RUS: Pavlyuchenkova,Makarova,Vesnina,Vikhlyantseva (Capt: Igor Andreev)
...the Czarina Era is over. Don't shed a tear, though. As wonderful as she was as a player, Anastasia Myskina's captaincy of the Russian team in the aftermath of swirling controversy regarding the Russian Tennis Federation's relationship with the nation's WTA players a few years ago often left much to be desired on FC game days. Two weeks ago, after one too many what-is-she-thinking? decisions (or, ahem, for "family reasons"), it was announced that Myskina was out as the Hordette captain, and Igor Andreev was in. Whether it will make a difference in this tie is debatable. Three months after losing for the first time to Slovakia, the Russian women hope to avoid losing for the first time to Latvia, which is trying to win a fifth straight tie and reach World Group II for the first time. It wasn't easy for Latvia to get here, as Alona Ostapenko and Anastasija Sevstova both suffered singles losses in Europe/Africa zone play in February and were forced to combine to win a pair of deciding doubles matches to save the day, including in the Promotional Playoff against Serbia. Meanwhile, Russia is trying to avoid falling into zone play in '19 for the first time since 1997. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Myskina's misplaced faith in *her* played a large part in her demise) is here again, lugging along her 4-8 FC singles record and 1-7 mark since 2012. Will Andreev make the same mistake as Myskina and depend on her to carry Russia's hope on her shoulders in pressure situations? If so, might there be a *third* Russian captain in three ties come next February? He'd be better off to hang the team's fate on the likes of Ekaterina Makrarova, Elena Vesnina or Natalia Viklyantseva (notched a singles win in February loss to SVK). If things go to the doubles, Makarova/Vesnina could be called upon to play their first FC match together since the 2013 semifinals. Overall, they're 3-0 as a duo, with their first match coming a dull decade ago in 2008.

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PICK: LAT def. RUS 3-1
...Sevastova aside, as Latvian Thunder goes in this tie, so goes that of the Latvians. Ostapenko's clay court trek toward her attempt to defend her Roland Garros title two months from now begins this weekend. One would think she'll want to get rolling early.

Paraguay at Spain (Cartagena, ESP - RCO)
PAR: Cepede Royg,M.Gonzalez,Giangreco Campiz,Escauriza (Capt: Ramon Delgado)
ESP: Muguruza,Suarez-Navarro,Arruabarrena,Martinez-Sanchez (Capt: Anabel Medina-Garrigues)
...for the first time since 2016, Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez-Navarro are side-by-side representing Spain. The top two ranked Spanish players went undefeated in singles that year, sweeping both Serbia and Italy by 4-0 score. Without both in attendance, Spain has gone on to lose three straight ties. Finally, though, new(ish) ESP Captain Anabel Medina-Garrigues will get the benefit against a game, though likely overmatched, Paraguayan squad looking to secure a World Group II spot in '19 for the first time in its history. The team is led by longtime FC stalwart Veronica Cepede Royg (32-10 s/19-10 dd), whose epic Promotional Playoff win over Beatriz Haddad in Americas zone play made this third attempt to reach the next level of FC play possible, after having lost in similar situations in 1995 and 2015. VCR is backed up by Montserrat Gonzalez (19-12/19-3). Still, if Muguruza (7-1) and CSN (12-8) are and/or remain fully healthy, the Spanish should roll. Third singles option Lara Arruabarrena, the Bogota runner-up last weekend, is riding a four-match FC losing streak (including a nightmare 0-2 mark vs. Italy in February) after going 2-0 in 2015 vs. Argentina in her FC debut.
PICK: ESP def. PAR 4-0
...AMG's Mauresmo-like whispering abilities would be interesting to watch if Muguruza and CSN were a consistent FC combo, possibly joined by 21-year old Sara Sorribes Tormo and, in the near future, by new ESP player (ex-SUI) Rebeka Masarova. The 18-year old the '16 RG junior champ and '17 AO girls runner-up is currently in the middle of rehabbing an knee injury incurred when she slipped on a wet court during a January practice. If the Fed Cup format changes to a single site event in the next season or two, Spain may benefit as much or more than any other contending nation.

Great Britain at Japan (Miki, JPN - HCI)
GBR: Konta,Watson,A.Smith,Taylor
(Capt: Anne Keothavong)
JPN: Osaka,Nara,Kato,Ninomiya
(Capt: Toshihisa Tsuchihashi)
...for the first time since her career-changing run in Indian Wells, Naomi Osaka will play tennis in Japan. She'll slide into the #1 singles slot (February #2 Nao Hibino is out) following Japan's great, four-contributing-members-strong teamwork in Asia/Oceania action three months ago. Osaka is 4-0 in her FC singles career, but her matches this weekend will be her first outside of zone play. She's got back-up, as Kurumi Nara went undefeated in February (and should have won the Fed Cup Heart Award for her efforts, losing out to the more popular Yulia Putintseva in truly dumb fan voting for the honor more than a month after the matches were played), and Miyu Kato/Makoto Ninomiya won a deciding doubles match over Kazakhstan to get Japan into this tie. The Brits, meanwhile, are trying to end a 25-year stretch of being excluded from the Fed Cup's Top 16 teams. A win here to reach the '19 World Group II would do the trick. Johanna Konta has had a truly disappointing '18 season, but she's been golden of late in FC play. 2-0 in February, she's won four straight singles matches. Heather Watson, too, has been a good team player, going 20-7 in singles (3 con. wins) and 8-2 in doubles for her career.
PICK: JPN def. GBR 3-2
...if Konta can knock off Osaka, the Brits might be able to take this tie before it gets to the deciding doubles. If not, Kato/Ninomiya will get the chance to close out another tie. This one could come down to the wire, with some tense 3rd set action deciding the fate of both nations.

Ukraine at Canada (Montreal, CAN - HCI)
UKR: Tsurenko,K.Bondarenko,Savchuk
(Capt: Mikhail Filima)
CAN: Bouchard,Abanda,Andreescu,Dabrowski
(Capt: Sylvain Bruneau)
...oh, boy. Here we go again? The last time Genie Bouchard showed up for a Fed Cup tie in Montreal, she uttered the "I'll pass" line when Alexandra Dulgheru attempted to shake her hand in a pre-tie press event, leading to a disastrous weekend that saw her go 0-2, including a loss to a fired-up Dulgheru, who promptly advanced down a line of her Romanian teammates, mocking Bouchard by pulling a "fake handshake" with each and every one. That weekend was precisely the moment that first exposed the "dark side" of the sudden star who'd been pumped up by marketers as the "next Kournikova/Sharapova" following her breakout '14 season. Of course, much has gone wrong for Bouchard since then, including a lockerroom concussion and protracted (and finally settled) legal battle with the USTA, many childish and ill-informed interviews, struggles to keep sponsers, and a so far bottomless fall down the rankings. In the immediate aftermath of her '14 AO semifinal, the newly-annointed Bouchard played a pair of FC ties in Montreal, going 4-0 in singles. Since then, though, she's gone just 3-7 in matches on Canadian soil. As it's difficult to pass over, Bouchard's presence on this roster will likely overshadow the rest of the story: that Canada's is the youngest roster in action this weekend, with Franckie Abanda (5-4, with FC wins over the likes of Shvedova, Putintseva, Cepelova and Begu, as well as three-setters vs. Cibulkova, Sasnovich and Dulgheru) and Bianca Andreescu (5-2 s/2-0 d, and coming off a pair of ITF singles finals in recent weeks) having been solid performers in their young FC careers. Captain Sylvain Bruneau would probably be wise to lean on them, if nothing else than for the team's future. But with Bouchard, somehow still the highest-ranked Canadian (though likely not for long once her points for a SF in Madrid fall off this spring, as she's gone just 7-17 since that run), on board, she could be given the opporutnity to take on two singles matches on the weekend. Unless something suddenly "clicks," that could take down the entire team. Still, Ukraine is playing shorthanded in Montreal. The team was listed as having just a three-player roster at mid-week (might ITF achiever Anhelina Kalinia, who has played exclusively in North America this season, be a late option to fill out the roster?). Elina Svitolina is absent, while teenagers Marta Kostyuk and Dayana Yastremska are scheduled for Stuttgart qualifying. It leaves Acapulco champ Lesia Tsurenko in the key role, but she recently was forced to retire in Monterrey. If she can't make it through the weekend, veteran Kateryna Bondarenko might have to take up the singles slack. Olga Savchuk is there, too, but likely just for doubles. Needless to say, there's much intrigue in this one, as very little is set in stone.

PICK: CAN def. UKR 3-2
...this is a case of me seeing a sensible scenario playing out in Montreal, with Bruneau handing the tie over to the youngsters, who have just enough success to get things to the deciding doubles, where Gaby Dabrowski (two MX slams and four WD titles since last spring) and maybe Bouchard might combine to produce the final point in a win for the hosts. We'll see how long that possibly hangs on as a possible reality.

Europe/Africa II (Athens, Greece - RCO)
Europe/Africa III (Tunis, Tunisia & Ulcinj, Montenegro - RCO)
Zone play has been going on at various sites the last few days, with mostly lower-level players/teams.

Names to watch: the host nation teams sporting the best players in action in zone play -- Tunisia's Ons Jabeur and Montenegro's Danka Kovinic -- and Dane Clara Tauson, the youngest player in action this weekend at just under 15 years and 4 months of age.

Of course, I'll have a full wrap-up of the entire Fed Cup event in the regular weekly post following all the weekend action, as well as the full "Fed Cup Captain Threat Level Chart."

All for now.


Blogger colt13 said...

OT: Panarin=Globetrotters, Capitals=Generals.

A week light on news, because everybody is preparing for Fed Cup.

2018 Fed Cup

MIP(Most Important Person)-Keys
For the US, Keys is their best player on clay, even having reached a final on foreign soil. There lies the problem with this tie, as both Stephens and Keys have been much better on US soil. But Keys has had decent results in slams overseas, plus YEC and the Olympics, so assume she will play better that Stephens here. Stephens has beaten Parmentier this year, so that matchup should happen. US needs to win this before the doubles, as Mattek-Sands isn't in form yet.

This whole tie depends on Goerges. She doesn't match up well vs Kvitova, and is also 0-2 vs her former doubles partner in Pliskova. She has to beat 1 of 2 to give Germany a shot, and since it is indoor clay, that would be Pliskova. Then Kerber/Kvitova(5-5 h2h) can have their marquee match on Sunday. This should be the highest quality tie.

I'm not riding the hot hand, but with Rybarikova and Cibulkova out, she is the highest ranked Slovak there. At best, she goes 1-1, but Sabalenka, Lapko, and Sasnovich should be too much for this squad.

The problem SUI had in the last tie is still there. Bacsinszky can't be expected to play 2 matches, and might just be doubles only. Schnyder would not be expected to play 2 either. That makes Golubic the clear #1, with Teichmann possibly the 2. Golubic and Halep have never played, but this is Halep on clay, so Romania's got this.

If there were betting odds, this one would be taken off the board. Schuurs is their best player, but hasn't played a singles match in 3 years. De Vroome hasn't played one in almost 2, and only has 1 WTA MD win to her credit-Pironkova. In fact, as a team, they only have 5 WTA wins in singles, Kerkhove leading the group with 3, which is why she has to play big. Assume Barty is the lead for the Aussies.

MIP-Van Uytvanck
Mertens is their clear #1, but Van Uytvanck needs to be #2 over Flipkens. She has the talent to beat Errani. But this is the team that most needs to be up 2-0, because the longer Italy sticks around, the tougher they are to take out. And I might favor Errani in doubles.

Russia has 3, arguably 4 women of equal ability. And since it is obvioud that Latvia will ride Ostapenko/Sevastova, Makarova deserves a chance due to matchups. Ostapenko is less than against lefties, and has already lost to Makarova this year. So Andreev should match them up on day 1, then use Vesnina/Vikhlantseva on day 2. If Russia plays this right, they could pull the upset.

MIP-Cepede Royg
Paraguay isn't really a one woman team, but she really is the only one expected to keep the score close. As a dirtballer, going against Spain is probably the worst case scenario because it is less of an advantage than against Canada. If Spain loses a match, it should be to her, or a dead rubber.

Canada has a chance to steal this tie. Assuming they start Abanda/Bouchard, Bondarenko is the key. Savchuk has 5 WTA wins in singles since 2011, so she isn't. Where a healthy Tsurenko should go 1-1 at worst, Bondarenko's matches are both 51/49, and she needs to step up.

Osaka and Konta cancel each other out. By pedigree, you would think Nara should be #2, but even though she has won matches in qualies and ITF recently, she has lost her last 9 WTA level matches, going back to Tashkent, most of them to women ranked below Watson. So Kato hopefully gets a chance on Sunday, as it should be 1-1 by then.

Wed Apr 18, 09:09:00 PM EDT  
Blogger jo shum said...

Saw a glimpse of nadal’s play. Quite impressive. Aggression and precision. Playing much faster than before. Shorten his time on clay.

A bit sad for Novak. Lots of errors. Lost his power than before. Serve not as strong

Thu Apr 19, 10:23:00 AM EDT  
Blogger grm2910 said...

I love your website. Read it religiously every week. In no other place I can get such detailed analysis and opinion in the women's game. Thanks for the dedication and the hard work.

Fri Apr 20, 02:03:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...


You know, I defended Djokovic against that other Backspinner, Galileo (he's busy at the moment, but hopefully we'll hear from him soon), and his belief that Novak's "end" was near about two seasons ago. I'm afraid he may have been right, though. :(

It's a good thing for that Federling guy (hey, I have to be consistent :D) that he's gotten another late-career wind, because Rafa was really maybe set to blow past him on a lot of career lists. His cushion, and continued career plan, is likely large enough now to maintain his statistical position, though (he'd already won all the "unofficial" hearts and minds when it comes to ranking their careers).


Thanks. ;)

Fri Apr 20, 11:12:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...


1) hmmm, Andreev has Pavlyuchenkova going against both Sevastova and Ostapenko. Guess he doesn't value job security.

2) AUS going with Stosur over Gavrilova (who's not even on the initial match line-up... wonder if she's injured?) in singles. Risky? Maybe, but not likely to matter.

3) still looking for CAN/UKR match-ups (9 of the 10 WG ties have been posted)

4) ...and the Brits win the FC team photo contest, I think. It's gotta be the shoes.

5) The Swiss are runners-up for creativity and staging. ;)

6) Group selfie winners: The Bannerettes

Fri Apr 20, 11:38:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Was there a contest this time to determine which team wore the worst dresses?!

Fri Apr 20, 09:53:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Hmmm, not sure if the Aussies are good or bad (I think they look a little better close up), but I know they stole the spotlight from the Dutch. ;)

Fri Apr 20, 11:05:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

That settles it—there must have been a contest!

Sat Apr 21, 10:01:00 AM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...


The dresses sort of mapped out Day 1 for the Aussies, as it turned out -- a little bit "cover your eyes" (Sam), a little bit "throwing in everything (Ash)"... and making you HAVE to lean in for a closer look.

...Sloane went from Future to goat to Future in one match. Kiki win over CoCo not unexpected. Will be interesting to see who Rinaldi picks for the singles tomorrow, and whether she'll hold back Vandeweghe for a possible deciding doubles w/ Mattek. Though CoCo could face Parmentier, have time to rest (assuming a straight sets win), and still play doubles. Keys could play either, but Vandeweghe/BMS have more of a history. IRWT? ;)

...well, so much for that. A Czech win would've raise no eyebrows (though when the FC website called the Germans the favorites, I almost re-thought my pick), but for GER to be on the verge of elimination w/o winning a set, on clay vs. the Maidens, at home, is a huge disappointment. I guess if this was the BEL team, Gerlach might be in trouble?

...this time it's Sabalenka who stumbles, as Kuzmova continues to make a "name" for herself.

...she had to take a peek over the Cliffs, but Simona eventually set the tone.

...what-the-what? So, Sam loses to Kerkhove (career FC singles wins now: 29 to 1)? But, as expected, Barty played the killer role -- though she shouldn't have to win THREE herself to def. the Dutch (but she might).

ITA/BEL 0-2 the inevitable finally happening?

...Pavlyuchenkova won. I repeat, Pavlyuchekova WON. So, who the heck knows what could happen next. Meanwhle, inside the "Mind of Myskina": "oh, NOW she wins... of course."

...Mugu made it more difficult than it needed to be.

JPN/GBR 1-1's all set up for that Osaka/Konta clash that might decide it.

...(still to come... but Bruneau is depending on Bouchard in singles)

Sat Apr 21, 01:10:00 PM EDT  
Blogger colt13 said...

Kerber/Kvitova 1st rd of Stuttgart. And possibly the deciding FC match.

Andreescu starting for Canada.

Keys/Mladenovic would be a good idea.

Hope the Osaka/Konta match as as good as it should be, followed up by Kato(still hoping) vs Watson.

Belgium probably had the best opening day.

Sat Apr 21, 02:19:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Well, other than the Czechs, of course. ;)

Sat Apr 21, 03:18:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...


1) Bouchard is nominated to CAN FC team

2) Bouchard is named to play two singles matches

3) Abanda falls minutes before match #1 (periorbital contusion - black eye) and is replaced by Andreescu

4) Andreescu leads Tsurenko 6-4/3-0, then cramps up and doesn't win another game, collapsing down 4-0 in 3rd and retiring. She's taken out in a wheelchair.

5) Then... this.

6) I guess the "Genie Canadian Fed Cup Curse" applies to every Canadian *but* Genie. So far.

Sat Apr 21, 05:48:00 PM EDT  
Blogger Diane said...

Heh. You never know What may be lurking in Montreal......

Sat Apr 21, 11:15:00 PM EDT  

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