All-Star Weekend

Friday, April 19, 2013 /by
AP Photo
AP Photo

While none of the WTA’s Top 5 players are in action in the World Group semifinals, this does have the feel of an all-star weekend for Fed Cup. Or at least a triumphant trip down memory lane. Between them, the four semifinalists—the Czech Republic, Italy, Russia, and Slovakia—have won 10 of the last 11 titles, and nine in a row. Who will play for a shot to keep that streak alive? Here’s a preview of the two ties going off Saturday and Sunday in Moscow and Palermo.

*****

Czech Republic vs. Italy

This is something of a clash of the Fed Cup titans—the Italians were champions in 2009 and 2010; the Czechs grabbed the trophy in 2011 and 2012. They split two recent semifinal match-ups, with the Italy winning at home in 2010 and the Czechh Republic returning the favor last year in Ostrava.

Each team is at full strength—could the home court make the difference again? This one should be closer, at least, than the Czechs’ 4-1 win in 2012. Certainly Sara Errani, Italy’s No. 1, hopes so. Last year she lost in straight sets to Petra Kvitova on a hard court; on Saturday she’ll open against Lucie Safarova. Errani likes clay, though she lost her one match to Safarova on the surface back in 2009. Safarova is the lower-ranked player, but she’s been something of a Fed Cup hero recently, winning both of her matches in last year’s final and upsetting Sam Stosur in the quarters against Australia in February. 

Judging by Fed Cup records, Kvitova should stomp all over Vinci; she’s 18-5 while the Italian is 2-4. But Vinci just sliced up Kvitova on clay last week in Poland. This match will likely pit Kvitova’s consistency, or lack thereof, against Vinci’s home-court jitters—she showed plenty of them in a three-set upset loss to Varvara Lepchenko of the U.S. earlier this year.

The Italians will need one of those two openers, because on Sunday the Czechs should be helped by Kvitova’s dominance of Errani. She’s dropped just one set in four meetings (though none of those matches were on clay). As for the doubles, the edge goes to Italy, but it's not a lock. The Czech team, Hradecka and Hlavackova, have won a major, but the Italians’ best team, Errani and Vinci, have won three. It might all be decided by the lowest-profile match of them all, Vinci vs. Safarova on Sunday. Either way, the Czechs will need Kvitova to be on her game. She has a history of coming through for them.

Winner: Czech Republic

*****

Slovakia vs. Russia

Is it just me, or do the Russian Fed Cuppers never have to leave Moscow? It’s probably just me, but they’re back at home again to play the Slovaks, on a red clay court.

It’s hard to say who that surface will help, but it's not a slam dunk for the Russians. This tie shapes up as a battle between Fed Cup experience and...Fed Cup inexperience. The two Slovak singles players, Daniela Hantuchova and Dominika Cibulkova, are a combined 45-20 for their country; the Russians, Maria Kirilenko and Anatasia Pavlyuchenkova, are 4-5. Though Dominika’s immediate Fed Cup memories aren’t so great; she had to retire from her quarterfinal match ahead 6-4, 5-4 with what was described as a severe leg spasm.

Pavs and Domi will start it off; they’re 1-1 in their head to head. Then it will be Kiri and Dani; Hantuchova leads that duel of the former SI swimsuit girls 4-2. 

On Sunday, Cibulkova will play Kirilenko; the Russian leads 2-1. Finishing the singles will be Pavs and Hantuchova; in a surprise to me, Pavs leads that match-up 5-1. Will that be the key to a Russian win? The country also has the best of the doubles players in Elena Vesnina.

Got all of that? I'm not sure I do. It may come down to how well Hantuchova, who turns 30 next week, plays. She won both of her matches to save the team’s quarterfinal tie against Serbia.

Winner: Slovakia

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