Watch List: First round of Fed Cup lacking star power
The Watch List returns to spotlight the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week the WTA yields the floor to Fed Cup, while the ATP goes back indoors and on clay for three ATP 250 level events.
While Davis Cup featured the likes of Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Stanislas Wawrinka, the first round of Fed Cup is completely lacking in star power. Angelique Kerber is the only top-ten player taking part in a World Group tie, with the traditional powerhouses fielding some comically weak teams. Just look at the team Russia is fielding, which features no player ranked inside the top 150.
The United States will be without the services of Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens, though it may not matter when they host an inexperienced Italian squad in Cleveland, Ohio. Italy will be without its core team of Sara Errani, Roberta Vinci, Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone, all of whom are sitting out the tie. Instead, Mary Jo Fernandez's young team led by Madison Keys, Alison Riske, Christina McHale and Lauren Davis, will take on Karin Knapp, Camila Giorgi, Nastassja Burnett and Alice Matteucci playing for the Italians. That's a winnable tie for the young Americans.
The most intriguing tie of the first round is the Slovak Republic vs. Germany in Bratislava. Not only will it feature Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova, but it's the most competitive tie on paper. Slovakia will send it's top two singles players, Cibulkova and Daniela Hantuchova, against Germany's top two, Kerber and Sabine Lisicki. Germany also have Andrea Petkovic and Julia Goerges in reserve, should Lisicki's shoulder, which forced her to withdraw from the Pattaya Open last week, prevent her from playing.
Open Sud de France (Montpellier)
Defending champion and No. 9 Richard Gasquet leads the field in Montpellier, with Gilles Simon, Jerzy Janowicz and Dmitry Tursunov rounding out the top four seeds. It's somewhat surprising to see Janowicz in the field given his injury woes at the Australian Open, where he came in a bit unprepared after a foot injury disrupted his off-season, but if he's healthy he should excel on these indoor hard courts. Another man to look out for is Gael Monfils, seeded fifth here. Drawn into Simon's half of the draw, he has a nice path to reach his second ATP final of the season.
Vina del Mar (Chile)
This is the clay court tournament that helped Rafael Nadal get back on his feet last year, but the No. 1 Spaniard won't be returning. The top seed is No. 15 Fabio Fognini, followed by Tommy Robredo, Nicolas Almagro and Marcel Granollers. It's a soft field -- the No. 8 seed Federico Delbonis is ranked No. 60 in the ATP -- but if your heart belongs to the clay, this is the tournament for you. Vina del Mar kicks off the Latin American "Golden Swing", which includes clay events in Chile, Argentina and Brazil over the next three weeks.
Top seed Tommy Haas is looking to kick-start his 2014 season after going winless in his first two tournaments (he retired in the first round at the Australian Open due to a shoulder injury). Whether his shoulder has recovered is unclear. He wasn't tapped to play singles in Germany's Davis Cup win over Spain, opting to take the court for doubles instead. Haas recently hired new coach Alexander Waske, and he's been vocal about his goal of reaching the ATP World Tour Finals in November. Getting a few wins here would be a start. Marin Cilic is a three-time champion in Zagreb but he's unseeded this year, still working his way back up the rankings after being suspended last year for an anti-doping violation. Now ranked No. 37, the 25-year-old was drawn into No. 2 seed Mikhail Youzhny's half of the draw.