Last year the ITF decided to nuke its men’s team event, Davis Cup, and start over. But it has stayed the traditional course on the women’s side. Fed Cup remains largely the same in 2019, and may be better for it. The two-day, reverse-singles format, with doubles played last, has long proven to be a model of drama-producing concision. And judging by the lineups for this weekend’s four opening-round ties, the event should draw roughly the same percentage of star players that the revamped Davis Cup Final will draw in November. Here’s a look ahead at how those four match-ups might play out.
Romania vs. Czech Republic
Ostrava, Czech Republic
There is one obvious drawback to the traditional Fed Cup/Davis Cup format: The team that wins the title must begin its defense just four months later. Not that the Czech Republic seems to mind; they’ve won the Fed Cup six of the last eight years, a run that includes three successful title defenses.
The Czechs will try to do it again in 2019, beginning with the most-anticipated tie of the weekend, against Romania in Ostrava. Australian Open finalist and Fed Cup stalwart Petra Kvitova will be absent; instead, they’ll rely on 33rd-ranked Katerina Siniakova to back up Karolina Pliskova in singles, a fact that should make this a close and entertainingly varied tie. Pliskova and Simona Halep of Romania are roughly equivalent at No. 1—Halep leads their head to head 6-3, but Pliskova has won both of their previous Fed Cup meetings, and she’s had the better 2019 so far. Siniakova and Mihaela Buzarnescu have never played, but they should be evenly matched as well; Siniakova’s experience in last year’s final, when she went 2-0 against the U.S., might give her an edge.
The potentially deciding doubles rubber will—barring substitutions—pit Siniakova and Barbora Krejikova against Irina-Camelia Begu and Monica Niculescu. Should be fun all around.
Match to watch: Pliskova vs. Buzarnescu. The Romanian squandered a seemingly insurmountable lead to the Czech at last year’s Wimbledon and lost in three sets. They’ll meet again to open this tie.
France vs. Belgium
Caroline Garcia and Alizé Cornet have had their feuds, but they’ve taken a road trip together to play singles against the the Belgians in Liège. It’s a Belgian team that, as of the last 12 months, is much-improved: Elise Mertens and Alison van Uytvanck each had career years in 2018, and they should match up respectably against Garcia and Cornet. If there’s a wild card lurking in this tie, it could be Kirsten Flipkens, the versatile former Wimbledon semifinalist who is scheduled to play doubles for the Belgians.
Belarus vs. Germany
The headline here is that the host Germans will be without their best player, Angelique Kerber, while the visiting Belarussians will have their No. 1, Aryna Sabalanka—as well as two-time Slam champ Victoria Azarenka, if needed. For now, Vika is only scheduled to play doubles, which will leave Sabalenka and Aliaksandra Sasnovich to face Germany’s Andrea Petkovic and Tatjana Maria in the four singles rubbers. The surface the Germans have chosen has been rated “medium fast”; that sounds like a speed Sabalenka will like.
Australia vs. USA
The U.S. may have the deepest WTA bench of any country at the moment, and it shows in a lineup that features 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys, 2019 Australian Open semifinalist Danielle Collins, and Sofia Kenin, who has already won a title and cracked the Top 40 this season. Of course, depth only means so much in an event that can be won with two players, and the Australians have two solid ones in Ash Barty, who is coming off a quarterfinal run at her home Slam in Melbourne, and 47th-ranked Daria Gavrilova. The two No. 1 players, Keys and Barty, have played once, on clay in 2017, with Keys coming out an easy winner. It probably won’t be so easy this time.
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