The 2018 edition of the Fed Cup begins Saturday with two singles matches across the four World Group ties. The draws for the matchups have been revealed and we take a look at how each set of contests should go:
Belarus vs Germany
Aryna Sabalenka vs Tatjana Maria
Their styles couldn’t be more different. Sabalenka is a power player of the highest order while Maria is someone who will want to use her feel and draw errors from her opponent. This is their second meeting with the Belarussian claiming a 6-3. 7-5 victory in the second round of Tashkent last year.
Playing at home and on her favorite surface of hard courts, Sabalenka will be in control throughout, dictating points whether she hits spectacular winners or makes ghastly unforced errors. Maria doesn’t have the weapons to hurt the teenager on this surface,which means Sabalenka should get last year’s runner-ups off to a good start.
Aliaksandra Sasnovich vs Antonia Lottner
The second match of the tie in Minsk sees the in-form Sasnovich face the Fed Cup debutant. It was thanks to the 23-year old that Belarus reached their first-ever final last year. Winning several clutch matches, Sasnovich was one of the standout players during last year’s competition and has begun her 2018 in good stead with a finals appearance in Brisbane.
The 21-year old Lottner is ranked 147th in singles and will be contesting her first match in very hostile conditions. Playing at the Chizhovka Arena, Belarus chose this venue as the host for all three of their ties which saw them come within a few games of winning the title and the German is sure to be up against it despite winning their only prior meeting four years ago in Stuttgart.
Czech Republic vs Switzerland
Petra Kvitova vs Viktorija Golubic
There may have not been a more impressive tournament win this early season than what Kvitova displayed in her dominant title run last week in St. Petersburg. Taking her 21st career title was the perfect build-up for her as she returns to her favorite tournament, having helped the Czechs to five Fed Cup championships in a six-year span.
As if that wasn’t enough for Golubic to deal with, she is leading off the tie ahead of Belinda Bencic, is replacing Timea Bacsinszky in the singles and aside from her one-handed backhand, has nothing to hurt Kvitova with (that being a common theme you will see throughout this weekend).
This will be the most competitive tie of the four in the World Group, but this match will not be close.
Barbora Strycova vs Belinda Bencic
This should be a fantastic match with the feisty Strycova taking on the resurgent Bencic. Both players will rely on rock-solid backhands while Bencic has the more complete game. She’ll look to overcome what is certain to be a hostile atmosphere in Prague as she will have the pressure of likely having to level the tie.
Their only career meeting was a 6-4, 5-7, 6-3 win for Strycova in the second round of New Haven and while the Czech is the favorite due to being at home, Bencic will pull off the upset to even the tie and set up what should be one of the best matches of the season against Kvitova on Sunday.
France vs Belgium
Pauline Parmentier vs Elise Mertens
This is the one tie in the World Group where the road team are favored mainly due to the presence of Mertens. Her second straight title in Doha and impressive semifinal run at the Australian Open makes her the best player in the tie. Her all-around game and red-hot form make her the heavy favorite over Parmentier.
The French veteran has never won a live rubber in a World Group tie and doesn’t figure to change that here. Absent of their biggest star Caroline Garcia, this could be the beginning of what could be a very long weekend for the French and captain Yannick Noah.
Kristina Mladenovic vs Alison Van Uytvanck
The good news for Mladenovic is that her awful 15-match winning streak is over after reaching the final of St. Petersburg last week. Unable to defend her title in Russia, she can be excused for getting hammered by Kvitova, but with France most likely down in the tie, she’ll have the pressure of needing to win to keep her side alive with any realistic chance as Mertens looms on Sunday.
Van Uytvanck has defeated Mladenovic on both occasions they have played previously in Wuhan four years ago and in the third round of the French Open three years ago on her way to the quarterfinals. The Belgian is most comfortable on clay, but with the likelihood of Belgium leading the tie, she’ll have the confidence of feeling no pressure to win this match as well as the two prior wins over her opponent.
United States vs Netherlands
Venus Williams vs Arantxa Rus
The elder Williams is playing in her 1,000th professional match and figures to have little trouble with Rus. In what should be a theme of this tie, the defending Fed Cup champions figure to have little trouble with the Dutch. In fact, there is no area that captain Paul Haarhuis’ team is better at than the Americans.
The only chance the lefty from the Netherlands has if she can accumulate a few quick holds and take advantage of Williams’ sometimes soft second serve, but a quick indoor hard court, such as the one in Asheville, further complicates things.
Coco Vandeweghe vs Richel Hogenkamp
Vandeweghe was the reason the Americans won the title last year, winning all three points in the final and she should be able to take advantage of the surface, utilizing her big serve and forehand to great effect.
Much like Rus, Hogenkamp is at a major disadvantage for all of the same reasons. Her gameplan will be to try and target that forehand as for all of its power, it’s the side that can break down on Vandeweghe.