Fed Cup 2017: Konta, Kerber and Halep headline battles for World Group status
Johanna Konta, Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep will all be in Fed Cup action this weekend
Its history may not be as long as that of the Davis Cup, but the Fed Cup’s roots and subsequent evolution have ensured it is now just as important a stop on the tennis tour for the elite players.
And while the first two nations to contest the Fed Cup title in 1963, the USA and Australia, went on to dominate the honours board in the early years, the last dozen years have brought a very different look to the competition. Since the USA last won the title in 2000, Russia and Italy have won three times apiece and the Czech Republic have won in five of the last six years.
Battle of champions
And as the Fed Cup semi-finals take to the stage this weekend, the two most successful teams will go head to head: 17-time champion USA against 10-time champion Czech Republic.
However, this time around, the Czechs are without a number of the players who have taken central roles in previous victories. Petra Kvitova has been side-lined by the hand injury she sustained in an attack, and their three other star players, No3 Karolina Pliskova, No17 Barbora Strycova and No28 Lucie Safarova, are all committed to back-to-back tournaments—Stuttgart, Prague, Madrid, and Rome—right up to the French Open.
The USA, too, is without its big-star names: Serena and Venus Williams and world No10 Madison Keys. But on home ground, and with three top-50 players plus the doubles No1 in Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the line-up, the Czechs could be missing from the final for the first time since 2013.
Swiss target first final since 1998
In the other semi-final, played in Belarus, Switzerland has named a strong squad against a team that is into its first World Group semi. That the tie is being played in Minsk brings into even sharper focus the absence of the home nation’s star, Victoria Azarenka. This is the city of her birth, but she remains out of action until late summer following the birth of her son.
And that must make Switzerland favoured to reach its first final in almost two decades, with former top-10 and current No22 Timea Bacsinszky plus one of tennis’s finest former singles and current doubles players, Martina Hingis, in the squad—and former top-10 singles player, Belinda Bencic, is currently nominated only for doubles ahead of the first day’s action.
Kerber headlines six top-20 players in World Group Playoffs
The World Group play-offs decide promotion and relegation between the four first-round losers from World Group in February [Spain, Germany, Netherlands and France] and four first-round winners from World Group II [Russia, Belgium, Ukraine and Italy]
Angelique Kerber may temporarily be conceding the No1 spot after the weekend—because of the loss of Stuttgart points—but she will be hoping to lead a strong German team back into the World Group, also in Stuttgart, before that happens. She is backed by two more top-50 Germans, but takes on this year’s Dubai and Taipei champion, world No13 Elina Svitolina, plus No43 Lesia Tsurenko, in the Ukrainian squad.
Kerber and Svitolina are just two of six top-20 players hoping for a World Group place, though. No19 Kristina Mladenovic leads a strong French team against an under-powered Spain, and No20 Kiki Bertens features in the Netherlands’ attempt to beat Slovakia, which sees veteran Daniela Hantuchova in the line-up instead of an injured Dominika Cibulkova: Hantuchova will turn 34 during the competition.
The strongest squad in the World Play-offs looks to be Russia—five times finalist in the last decade, twice going on to win. Russia fields No15 Elena Vesnina, No16 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and No29 Daria Kasatkina, and will play at home against Belgium.
Konta takes on Halep in bid for GB promotion to world ranks
The World Group II play-offs decide promotion and relegation between the four first-round losers from World Group II [Romania, Chinese Taipei, Australia and Italy] and four winners from Zone Group I [GB and Serbia from Europe/Africa, Canada from the Americas, and Kazakhstan from Asia/Oceania]
One of the ties of the weekend is in the World Group II Play-offs, which will bring No5 Simona Halep of Romania face-to-face with Miami champion and the new No7 Johanna Konta of Great Britain, both aiming to seal a place among the elite 16 nations in 2018. Neither nation has ever won the Fed Cup, and not since 1981 has GB reached the final.
Indeed, GB has been playing in the Europe/Africa Zone I group for 13 years, in what is perhaps the toughest segment of the Fed Cup, where 14 nations have to compete in round robins and then knock-outs that leave just two of them with the chance to play for promotion.
This could hardly be a tougher challenge at this level, however. The tie is played in the home town of one of Romania’s most famous and loved stars, and Halep is ably backed by No33 in the world, Irina-Camelia Begu.
GB’s No2, Heather Watson, has recently slipped outside the top 100 as she has struggled with her form, but the conditions will be difficult for all the players on the outdoor clay of Constanta on the Black Sea, which has a balmy climate in the summer but in April, can be very cool and damp—and that is precisely the weather at the moment.
So poor are the conditions that Saturday’s start delayed by an hour to midday.
Venue: Tenis Club IDU, Constanta, Romania (outdoor clay)
Saturday 22 April
R1 Simona Halep v Heather Watson
R2 Irina-Camelia Begu v Johanna Konta
Sunday 23 April
R3 Simona Halep v Johanna Konta
R4 Irina-Camelia Begu v Heather Watson
R5 Sorana Cirstea/Monica Niculescu v Laura Robson/Jocelyn Rae
World Group SFs
USA v Czech Rep
Venue: Saddlebrook Resort, Florida, USA (outdoor clay)
USA: Coco Vandeweghe, Lauren Davis, Shelby Rogers, Bethanie Mattek-Sands
Czech Republic: Katerina Siniakova, Kristyna Pliskova, Denisa Allertova, Marketa Vondrousova
Belarus v Switzerland
Venue: Chizhovka Arena, Minsk, Belarus (indoor hard)
Belarus: Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Aryna Sabalenka, Olga Govortsova, Vera Lapko
Switzerland: Timea Bacsinszky, Viktorija Golubic, Belinda Bencic, Martina Hingis
World Group Play-offs
France v Spain
Venue: Halle Andre Vacheresse, Roanne, France (indoor clay)
France: Kristina Mladenovic, Alize Cornet, Pauline Parmentier, Amandine Hesse
Spain: Sara Sorribes Tormo, Silvia Soler-Espinosa, Olga Saez Larra, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez
Russia v Belgium
Venue: Small Sports Arena Luzhniki, Moscow, Russia (indoor clay)
Russia: Elena Vesnina, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Daria Kasatkina, Anna Blinkova
Belgium: Elise Mertens, Maryna Zanevska, Alison Van Uytvanck, An-Sophie Mestach
Germany v Ukraine
Venue: Porsche Arena, Stuttgart, Germany (indoor clay)
Germany: Angelique Kerber, Laura Siegemund, Julia Goerges, Carina Witthoeft
Ukraine: Elina Svitolina, Lesia Tsurenko, Olga Savchuk, Nadiia Kichenok
Slovakia v Netherlands
Venue: Aegon Arena, Bratislava, Slovakia (indoor clay)
Slovakia: Kristina Kucova, Jana Cepelova, Rebecca Sramkova, Daniela Hantuchova
Netherlands: Kiki Bertens, Richel Hogenkamp, Cindy Burger, Arantxa Rus
World Group II Play-offs [Romania v GB above]
Italy v Chinese Taipei
Venue: Circolo Tennis Barletta, Barletta, Italy (outdoor clay)
Italy: Sara Errani, Jasmine Paolini, Martina Trevisan, Camilla Rosatello
Chinese Taipei: Lee Ya-Hsuan, Hsu Chieh-Yu, Hsu Ching-Wen, Chuang Chia-Jung
Serbia v Australia
Venue: Kristalna Dvorana Sports Hall, Zrenjanin, Serbia (indoor hard)
Serbia: Nina Stojanovic, Aleksandra Krunic, Ivana Jorovic, Dejana Radanovic
Australia: Daria Gavrilova, Ashleigh Barty, Destanee Aiava, Casey Dellacqua
Canada v Kazakhstan
Venue: Uniprix Stadium, Montreal, Canada (indoor hard)
Canada: Francoise Abanda, Bianca Andreescu, Katherine Sebov, Gabriela Dabrowski
Kazakhstan: Yulia Putintseva, Yaroslava Shvedova, Galina Voskoboeva, Kamila Kerimbayev