Watch List: Rafael Nadal returns in Chile; Fed Cup gets under way
The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. Rafael Nadal highlights this week's lineup.
Clear your calendars for Wednesday: Nadal takes the court at the VTR Open in Vina Del Mar, Chile, for his first singles match since losing to Lukas Rosol in the second round of Wimbledon. That's a seven-month layoff for the 11-time major champion, who was seen practicing hard in Chile this weekend with strapping around his left knee. Nadal said he still feels pain, but he's opted to come back two weeks earlier than anticipated to test the knee and his confidence.
He's been downplaying his chances in his return, but the ATP 250 field should offer little resistance early. He has a bye in the first round and will open against either a qualifier or No. 92 Guido Pella. If the seeds hold, he'll face Daniel Gimeno-Traver, Jeremy Chardy and defending champion Juan Monaco for the title. Chardy is the hot hand after beating Juan Martin del Potro at the Australian Open and making the quarterfinals, while Monaco just won two matches on clay over the weekend in Davis Cup. Nadal has also paired with Monaco for doubles. Their first match will be Tuesday.
Open Sud de France
Montpellier was able to secure three top-10 men, defending champion Tomas Berdych, Janko Tipsarevic and Richard Gasquet, along with the typical bevy of talented Frenchmen, including Gilles Simon, Gael Monfils and Julien Benneteau. [UPDATE: French magazine L'Equipe reports Berdych has withdrawn.] This is Tipsarevic's first tournament since retiring in the fourth round of the Australian Open to Nicolas Almagro with a foot injury. He skipped Serbia's Davis Cup tie in Belgium over the weekend as well, so we'll see how he bounces back.
The draw already offers some early-round intrigue with a possible second-round clash between Gasquet and Monfils.
PBZ Zagreb Indoors
Say what you will about Marin Cilic, the lanky Croat who seems to have fallen short of his promise as a reliable top-10 player, but he always seems to bring his best when he's playing at home. He's going for his third title in Zagreb, with Andreas Seppi, defending champion Mikhail Youzhny and Jurgen Melzer rounding out the top seeds. Seppi, at a career-high ranking of No. 18, lost to Cilic last weekend on clay at Davis Cup. Other names to keep an eye on in the draw are Grigor Dimitrov and Martin Klizan. Dimitrov opens against the struggling but always tricky Ivo Karlovic.
Australia vs. Czech Republic (Ostrava, Czech Republic -- Indoor Hard): The Czechs begin their title defense against Sam Stosur and her Aussie teammates. This is one tie that could come down to the two No. 1s duking it out in the fourth rubber. On the whole I'd say Stosur is the more in-form player (a worrisome statement on Kvitova's desultory results as of late), though she's 0-3 against Kvitova.
USA vs. Italy (Rimini, Italy -- Indoor Clay): Sloane Stephens' last-minute withdrawal because of an abdominal injury has turned the U.S. into massive underdogs against Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. Without Stephens or the Williams sisters, Varvara Lepchenko, Jamie Hampton, Liezel Huber and Melanie Oudin will lead captain Mary Joe Fernandez's team. With Errani and Vinci as the No. 1 doubles team, especially on clay, the Americans' best bet is to get their three points in singles. Lepchenko has struggled, but she knows how to play on clay, making the fourth round of the French Open and quarterfinals of Madrid last year.
Slovak Republic vs. Serbia (Nis, Serbia -- Indoor Hard): Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic will play host to Dominika Cibulkova and Daniela Hantuchova in what should be a highly competitive tie. I don't know about the selection of indoor hard court to host this tie, as surely a clay court would have favored Ivanovic and Jankovic over the Slovaks.
Germany vs. France (WGII - Limoges, France -- Indoor Clay): Given the talent from both countries it's a bit of a shock to see them relegated into World Group II, particularly the Germans, who've seen their strong team saddled with bad luck and tough draws the last two years. The Germans will be without their No. 1, Angelique Kerber, who is sidelined with a back injury. Their hottest player, Mona Barthel, opted to skip Fed Cup this year. So it will be Julia Goerges and Sabine Lisicki for the Germans -- a talented but erratic duo -- against a French team that will include Marion Bartoli for the first time since 2004. That's right, captain Amelie Mauresmo somehow persuaded Bartoli to rejoin the team, a huge boon to France's chances to get back into the World Group, especially given the rise of 19-year-old Kristina Mladenovic, who could get the nod as France's No. 2 singles player.Zonal Group: Great Britain (Eilat, Israel -- Outdoor Hard Court): It's worth keeping an eye on Judy Murray and her two young Brits, Heather Watson and Laura Robson, as they try to get the team back into World Group. The Brits have been handed the best draw they could hope for, into a group with Portugal, Hungary and Bosnia-Herzegovina, and avoiding Poland (i.e., Agnieszka Radwanska), Belarus and Romania, arguably the three most talented sides in the group.