Tuesday January 31st, 2012

Judy Murray takes over as Great Britain's Fed Cup captain as they prepare for Group 1 round-robin play. (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week’s focus is on the Fed Cup.

Fed Cup: Typically, with the placement of Fed Cup (and Davis Cup, for that matter) so close to the Australian Open, some potentially exciting first-round ties lose their fizzle because many top players take a pass. Not so this year, as some big stars are still chasing eligibility for the London Olympics. So while a handful of marquee names are missing because of injury or scheduling issues (including Kim Clijsters, Andrea Petkovic and Ana Ivanovic), quite a few are prepared to play. Here's a rundown:

-- U.S. vs. Belarus: The most enticing matchup of the weekend is this World Group II tie in Worcester, Mass. Serena and Venus Williams have made themselves available. That means a possible clash between Serena and new world No. 1 and Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka. Both players should be motivated for this popcorn match. As for Venus, let's be patient and see if she's even able to play; Serena says her sister will be ready.

-- Germany vs. Czech Republic: The Germans made a strong run to gain promotion into the World Group last year and it's a shame they've been drawn against the defending champions in the first round. To add injury to bad luck, they'll be without Petkovic, who is still sidelined with a stress fracture in her back. And can someone please explain the logic of the Germans selecting indoor hardcourts to play against Petra Kvitova? She was 21-0 indoors last year. Talk about some hospitable hosts. Sabine Lisicki, Julia Goerges and Angelique Kerber have their work cut out for them.

-- Russia vs. Spain: How will Maria Sharapova rebound from her devastating loss in the Australian Open final? We could find out as soon as this weekend if she leads the Russians against Spain in Moscow in a World Group matchup. Spain is sending a crafty team that includes Carla Suarez Navarro, who had Kvitova on the ropes in the second round in Melbourne. The Russians, however, should prevail with a team that includes Svetlana Kuznetsova and Australian Open quarterfinalist Ekaterina Makarova. In fact, Russia might not even need Sharapova to take the court to win.

-- Other notable names in action: Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska and China's Li Na are trying to get their countries promoted into World Group II; Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta of 2009-10 champion Italy take on Ukraine in World Cup play; and Australia's Samantha Stosur is in Switzerland for a World Group II tie.

And last but not least, Judy Murray begins her reign as Great Britain's Fed Cup captain in Eilat, Israel. So far, her appointment has been worth it for the tweets alone.

• Open Sud de France: Tomas Berdych, who did well to push Rafael Nadal to four sets in the Australian Open quarterfinals, tops the field at the ATP 250 tournament in Montpellier, France. He's joined by almost every Frenchmen in the book, including Gilles Simon, Richard Gasquet, Paul-Henri Mathieu (who is returning from knee injury to play his first Tour-level event since November 2010) and BTB's favorite tormentor, Gael Monfils. I have no doubt that La Monf will come up with something nutty. Also this week on the ATP Tour, Croatia's Ivan Ljubicic is the No. 1 seed and local favorite at the Zagreb Indoors, and Fernando Gonzalez makes his 2012 debut at the VTR Open in Vina Del Mar, Chile.

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