Watch List: Djokovic, Nadal, Federer in Monte Carlo, plus Fed Cup playoffs
The Watch List highlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week, the stars of the ATP are in Monte Carlo for the first of three Masters 1000 tournaments on clay, while some WTA players go to Bogota, Colombia, and others prepare for this weekend's Fed Cup ties.
Monte Carlo Rolex Masters
Can Rafael Nadal get all the pieces together in Monte Carlo? The eight-time champion actually has points to gain this week after he lost here last year to David Ferrer in the quarterfinals. Nadal is the No. 3 seed behind No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Roger Federer. Djokovic, who passes Nadal this week in number of weeks at No. 1, is looking to become the first player to win the first three Masters 1000s of the season. A champion in Monte Carlo in 2013, Djokovic has made the semifinals or better the last six years. Federer meanwhile is still looking to win his first Monte Carlo title. He came close last year but lost in the final to Stan Wawrinka.
Djokovic and Nadal are in the top half of the draw with Federer and No. 4 seed Milos Raonic in the bottom half. Federer and Nadal have the toughest roads to the final. Federer could open against Jeremy Chardy, the talented Frenchman who beat him in Rome last year, and then possibly Gael Monfils and Wawrinka in the quarterfinals, with either Tomas Berdych or Raonic looming in the semifinals. Nadal could open against Dominic Thiem, before playing John Isner and then Ferrer in the quarterfinals, with Djokovic looming.
This year's Fed Cup semifinal matches feature two highly-anticipated ties. The Russians, led by Maria Sharapova, host last year's runner-up Germany on red clay in Sochi. Barring any last minute line-up changes, the weekend will feature Sharapova and Svetlana Kuzentsova in singles against Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber. The interesting call for German captain Barbara Rittner is whether to sub in a resurgent Sabine Lisicki for an admittedly fatigued Petkovic, who hinted at the possibility. But any lineup change would be surprising given that Petkovic is a proven commodity under the unique pressures of Fed Cup and there's too much at stake to be fiddling with personnel now.
The other semifinal features the defending champion Czech Republic hosting France in Ostrava. The tie will see the return of No. 4 Petra Kvitova, who pulled out of the North American hard court tournaments citing exhaustion. If she's not fit enough for the tie, the Czechs can go with one of the best players of the first three months, Karolina Pliskova, and Lucie Safarova.
The biggest challenge for French captain Amelie Mauresmo is figuring out which players will be best suited for the quick hard court—a surface that feeds into the games of Czech players Kvitova, Pliskova and Safarova. Mauresmo's options are a slumping Alize Cornet, Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic. With Cornet's skills better suited for clay courts, Mauresmo could turn to the youngsters, Garcia and Mladenovic, who single-handedly saved France in the first round.
Outside of the semifinals, the World Group Playoffs see Serena and Venus Williams heading to Italy to try and avoid U.S. relegation into World Group II. Italy is hosting the tie on clay in Brindisi, Italy, and have nominated Sara Errani, Flavia Pennetta and Camila Giorgi for singles.
After telling reporters in Charleston that she probably would not play in Canada's Fed Cup tie against Romania, Eugenie Bouchard has now agreed to join the team in Montreal. The blockbuster showdown took a hit when No. 3 Simona Halep opted not to play and instead, Irina-Camelia Begu and Alexandra Dulgheru. will represent the Romanians in singles.
Another World Group Playoff to keep an eye on is Poland vs. Switzerland in Poland. Agnieszka Radwanska went winless in the first round against Russia and she'll be feeling the pressure once again, this time facing a team led by Timea Bacsinszky. Martina Hingis is also on the team, probably for Olympic eligibility concerns, and though she laughed at the idea she might play singles over the weekend, she told reporters in Charleston that it would be up to the captain.
Claro Open Colsanitos
It's rare to see a tour-level event the same week as Fed Cup, but Bogota is indeed hosting an International-level clay court event this week. Elina Svitolina is the top seed, with Monica Puig, Ajla Tomljanovic and Francesca Schiavone behind her.