Fed Cup preview: Serena, Sharapova, Halep in action in Round 1
The first round of Fed Cup takes place this weekend and the top two players are in action. No. 1 Serena Williams will do her part to help get the United States back into the World Group against Argentina, while No. 2 Maria Sharapova is with the Russians in Krakow, Poland, and could face No. 8 Agnieszka Radwanska on Sunday. All draws and start times can be found here. Here's how the key ties break down:
U.S. vs. Argentina (World Group II)
The Argentines are hosting the Americans on clay in Buenos Aires. Serena joked in Melbourne that she hoped No. 20 Madison Keys would be able to play her matches for her, but Keys had to sit out this tie due to the leg injury she picked up in the quarterfinals against Venus. Varvara Lepchenko was also ruled out due to illness. That left CoCo Vandeweghe and Taylor Townsend to serve as last-minute substitutions. But the focus over the weekend will be Serena and Venus. A win would put the Americans one-step closer to getting promoted back into World Group I.
Venus vs. Paula Ormaechea
Serena vs. Maria Irigoyen
Serena vs. Paula Ormaechea
Venus vs. Maria Irigoyen
CoCo Vandeweghe/Taylor Townsend vs. Tatiana Bua/Nadia Podroska
Russia vs. Poland (World Group I)
"Isn't she back in Poland already?" That was Sharapova at the 2012 Australian Open when she was asked about Radwanska's complaints about her grunting. The two could face on Sunday in reverse singles. The question is whether Aga Radwanska can single-handedly get the job done for Poland. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Russia's No. 2, could easily play spoiler here.
This is just the fourth Fed Cup tie Sharapova has ever played for Russia and it's effectively a mandatory one given how the ITF has linked Olympic eligibility to Fed Cup participation -- see, e.g., Venus and Serena.
Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Agnieszka Radwanska
Maria Sharapova vs. Urszula Radwanska
Maria Sharapova vs. Agnieszka Radwanska
Svetlana Kuznetsova vs. Urszula Radwanska
Diatchenko/Pavlyuchenkova vs. Jans-Ignacik/Rosolska
Australia vs. Germany (World Group I)
In a rematch of last year's semifinal, which was played in Australia, the two teams reunite in Stuttgart, Germany, this year. In a surprise move, Captain Alicia Molik has nominated Jarmila Gajdosova ahead of Casey Dellacqua as Australia's No. 2 behind Sam Stosur. The Germans once again will go with Angelique Kerber and Andrea Petkovic.
Finalists last year, the Germans once again have a strong enough team to win this competition this year. Petkovic was the key to their semifinal win last year, upsetting Stosur on Day 1. She comes into this tie with an 0-3 record to start the season.
Jarmila Gajdosova vs. Angelique Kerber
Sam Stosur vs. Andrea Petkovic
Sam Stosur vs. Angelique Kerber
Jarmila Gajdosova vs. Andrea Petkovic
Dellacqua/Stosur vs. Lisicki/Goerges
Czech Republic vs. Canada (World Group I)
What should have been a blockbuster tie on paper has fizzled after the Czechs left their two top players, Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova, on the bench, while Canada's No. 1 Eugenie Bouchard opted to skip the tie. That leaves a Czech team led by No. 22 Karolina Pliskova and Tereza Smitkova against 18-year-old Francoise Abanda and 22-year-old Gabriela Dabrowski. The Canadians have opted to go with youth ahead of experience -- both women are making their singles debuts -- leaving Sharon Fichman on the bench. Keep an eye on the talented Abanda. She could steal this tie for the Canadians.
Karolina Pliskova vs. Francoise Abanda
Tereza Smitkova vs. Gabriela Dabrowski
Karolina Pliskova vs. Gabriela Dabrowski
Tereza Smitkova vs. Francoise Abanda
Allertova/Hradecka vs. Dabrowski/Fichman
France vs. Italy (World Group I)
This could be the tightest and most dramatic tie of the weekend, as France travels to Genoa to take on Italy. The singles ties will feature four Top 30 ranked players. Italy has gone with Sara Errani and Camila Giorgi, while Amelie Mauresmo's French squad is led by Alize Cornet and Caroline Garcia.
The sassy tie of the weekend is on Sunday between Errani and Cornet, in a rematch of the "Why you say Vamos?" match from two years ago in Canada. Errani grew angry with Cornet after the Frenchwoman began celebrating by yelling "Vamos." It was a classic:
Caroline Garcia vs. Sara Errani
Alize Cornet vs. Camila Giorgi
Alize Cornet vs. Sara Errani
Caroline Garcia vs. Camila Giorgi
Mladenovic/Parmentier vs. Errani/Vinci
Spain vs. Romania (World Group II)
No. 3 Simona Halep leads the Romanians at home against a Spanish squad that includes No. 24 Garbine Muguruza, who is making her Fed Cup debut for Spain. That's big news given the tug-of-war between Spain and Venezuela for her services, and the two could face off on Sunday. The winner earns a shot at promotion to the World Group.
Silvia Soler-Espinosa vs. Simona Halep
Garbine Muguruza vs. Irina-Camelia Begu
Garbine Muguruza vs. Simona Halep
Silvia Soler-Espinosa vs. Irina-Camelia Begu
Arrauabuena/Medina Garrigues vs. Dulgheru/Niculescu