The Fed Cup is a unique and wonderful tournament. It provides some of the most open, exciting matches in the year, as well as giving the game’s future stars a platform from which to make their mark on the big stage. This weekend will see the return of this prestigious tournament, with ties set to take place from Asheville, USA to Minsk, Belarus. The tournament has stuck with the traditional format of having one “World Group,” where countries compete for the Fed Cup, and a “World Group II,” which is a level just below where teams will be looking to fight for the right to compete for the trophy next year. Despite this being the first round of Fed Cup action that tennis fans have seen this year, there are some great ties on offer, with big-name players featured, like the Williams sisters for the United States. Here is your thorough guide to this weekend’s Fed Cup World Group action.
USA v The Netherlands – Asheville, USA
Prediction: USA 4 – 1 The Netherlands
The defending champions from the United States will see the return of arguably their greatest-ever Fed Cup pairing, Serena and Venus Williams, return to action in Asheville. Serena Williams is set to make her long-awaited comeback, following her last-minute withdrawal from last month’s Australian Open. Venus Williams, on the other hand, will be looking to bounce back from a first-round loss in Australia, and she certainly has the experience and mental strength to do so. Coco Vandeweghe and Lauren Davis complete the US line-up for this tie, and Vandeweghe contributed a huge amount to the United States’ success in this competition last year.
The United States will come up against a vastly less-experienced Dutch team, whose entire team is ranked outside the Top-100 in the WTA singles rankings. Their star player, Richel Hogenkamp, has mostly played on the ITF circuit. This will be the first time that she plays Fed Cup in over a year. The Dutch will be hoping that Serena and Venus Williams have a bad day, and their doubles pairing of Demi Schuurs and Lesley Kerkhove will need to win their rubber if they are to make the score respectable. Unfortunately for the Dutch, they cannot compete with the experience, power, and mental fortitude of the US players.
Czech Republic v Switzerland – Prague, Czech Republic
Prediction: Czech Republic 3 – 2 Switzerland
This will be a closer match than most people may think. The Czechs will welcome back their star-studded line-up of Karolína Plíšková, Petra Kvitová, Lucie Šafářová, and Barbora Strýcová, but even so, not everything may go to plan for them. A lot has been made of the conflict between Plíšková and Strýcová, and although both players appear to have put the spat behind them, team captain Petr Pála will need to make sure that any remaining differences between the two are set aside this weekend. Nevertheless, Czech tennis fans will be buoyed by Kvitová’s recent form, as she romped to the title in St. Petersburg last week.
Switzerland, on the other hand, will place their hopes of winning this tie firmly on the shoulders of young talent, Belinda Bencic. Bencic had a wonderful run to the Hopman Cup title last month, and she beat Venus Williams in the first round of the Australian Open. Many will see the fact that she did not advance to the latter stages in Melbourne as a sign of inexperience. Though this may be the case, Bencic is still an incredible talent. Alongside Timea Bacsinsky, the two can take on the best names in the game, and will take advantage of any below-par performances. The Czechs have the edge in this tie, but they will need to be at their best if they are to prevail.
France v Belgium – La-Roche-sur-Yon, France
Prediction: France 1 – 4 Belgium
France has gone for an unconventional three-woman team, featuring Kristina Mladenovic, Pauline Parmentier, and Amandina Hesse. Their selection places a huge burden on Mladenovic, who could either thrive in the limelight, or she could crumble. The young Frenchwoman is a volatile character on-court, but she comes into the weekend’s rubbers having had a good run to the St. Petersburg Open final. This will hopefully give her, and her teammates, much-needed confidence. Parmentier and Hesse have amassed only three wins between the two of them this year, and they will be hoping to improve this record against a strong Belgian line-up.
Elise Mertens will be one of the star attractions in France this weekend, due to her sensational run to the semi-finals in Melbourne last month. The Belgian loves playing on hard courts, and alongside Kirsten Flipkens, Alyson van Uytvanck, and Ysaline Bonaventure, they form a formidable team. The Belgians have more strength in reserve than the French, and they are more experienced overall. France appears to have admitted defeat with its three-person line-up, but hopefully Mladenovic can give the home crowd something to cheer about.
Belarus v Germany – Minsk, Belarus
Prediction: Belarus 4 – 1 Germany
Last year’s finalists, Belarus, is one of the few teams in the World Group to have kept their star performers from last year in their team, Aryna Sabalenka and Aliaksandra Sasnovich. Both players were instrumental in getting Belarus to their first-ever Fed Cup final in 2017, and they will be looking to go one step further this year. This tie will be a good opportunity for Sabalenka and Sasnovich to lay down a marker to the rest of the Fed Cup teams, after what has been an indifferent start to the season for both of them.
The two Belorussian stars have the perfect opportunity to set their seasons right this weekend, for they come up against a severely depleted German team, without Angelique Kerber and Julia Goerges. Tatjana Maria and Antonia Lottner will carry German hopes in the singles, but they do not quite pose the same threat as the aforementioned Goerges and Kerber. Sasnovich and Sabalenka will bully Lottner and Maria from the baseline, as well as use the home crowd to their advantage. If the best Belorussian Fed Cup pairing of all-time is still firing as they were last year, this could be a tie to forget for the German Fed Cup team.