Fed Cup

#Dramz: The Russian Fed Cup Saga

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In August of 2008, a little more than two months before Russia won the last of its four Fed Cup titles, there were six Russian women gracing the top 10: Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Sharapova, Elena Dementieva, Dinara Safina, Anna Chakvetadze and Vera Zvonareva. With a total of 15 players inhabiting the top 100, Russia was far and away the top power in women’s tennis.

In 2013, Russia is back in the Fed Cup final and looking for its first title since Kuznetsova, Zvonareva, Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova brought home team glory in 2008.

Five years later, they can’t even get a top 100 player to play.

The Russians, who’ve typically been spoiled by an incredibly deep bench for team events, remain scrounging around for four players to oppose the Italians in the 2013 Fed Cup final. The deadline for official team nominations is 10 days before the tie begins. With the final set to begin on Nov. 2, that leaves Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev less than two days to find himself a team. However, lineup changes can be made up to an hour before the draw is made on Friday, Nov. 1.

It’s an embarrassing fall from grace for a nation that was on top of the world just a half-decade ago.

Five years ago, the Russians boasted six players in the top 10. Currently, there are just six players in the top 100.

Maria Sharapova, who rarely features on the Russian squad in the team event, was ruled out early. The World No. 2 ended her season in August due to a shoulder injury.

The snowball got rolling on Oct. 8,  when Vesnina told Russian news outlet Championat that she will not participate in the Fed Cup final. Instead, Vesnina has chosen to participate in the WTA’s Tournament of Champions in Sofia, held the same week. Vesnina qualified for the event on the back of her first career title, the International-level event in Hobart. She also added a Premier level title in Eastbourne in 2013.

Unfortunately, I cannot play in the Fed Cup final. It is the first time I have qualified for the Tournament of Champions in Sofia and plan to take part in it. For seven years, I have always given priority to the team and put it first…I have the opportunity to go to this prestigious tournament and finish the year in the top 20, and would very much like to achieve this…In our country, there are still players who can play. (original in Russian)

Makarova, Vesnina’s doubles partner, has been suffering from a wrist injury since a quarterfinal showing at the US Open. The pair is scheduled to compete this week in the doubles event at the WTA Championships in Istanbul, but numerous question marks surround the lefty and her health.

Maria Kirilenko, the Russian No. 2, is also on the entry list in Sofia courtesy of a title earlier this year in Pattaya City. Kirilenko participated in Russia’s first two Fed Cup ties this year, and played a key role in getting her country to the final. Kuznetsova reportedly turned down an invitation to play and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova confirmed to Vladas Lasitskas of sport-express.ru that she would be joining Kirilenko and Vesnina in Sofia.

With his top six otherwise occupied, Tarpischev may be forced to go outside the top 100 to find willing and able bodies.

Off of a quarterfinal showing at the Kremlin Cup as a wildcard, former top 20 player Alisa Kleybanova moved up 68 spots in the rankings to No. 186. Kleybanova, who missed most of the last two years recovering from Hodgkin’s lymphoma, has offered up her services to her country if necessary.

Speculation that a team consisting of Kleybanova, Daria Gavrilova, Margarita Gasparyan and Irina Khromacheva (combined ranking: 863) ran rampant on social media Monday. However, Gavrilova appeared to put the rumors, at least of her participation, to rest.

In a later series of tweets, the 2010 ITF Junior World Champion blasted the Russian federation regarding the treatment she’s received from them in her transition to the professional circuit.

For the record, Anastasia Bukhanko has played a total of four professional tennis matches in her career. Gavrilova received a main draw wildcard to the Kremlin Cup in Moscow in 2010, where she lost her WTA singles debut to Alona Bondarenko.

She hasn’t received one since.

Adding insult to injury? Following Sharapova’s withdrawal from the WTA Championships, no Russian woman will compete for the season-ending crown for the first time since 1997. For a country that held a vice grip on the WTA top 10 just five years ago, the odds are looking likely that they might not have a top 100 player suit up to fight for the only team trophy in tennis.

How times have changed.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, Tarpischev named his team for the final. Kleybanova, Khromacheva, Gasparyan and Alexandra Panova. The quartet has a combined singles ranking of 872.

The Fed Cup Dilemma

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This post first appeared at Tennis Grandstand.

The argument about whether tennis belongs in the Olympic Games has been hotly debated in tennis and sporting circles for the past decade. For athletes in most other sports, the Olympics is the pinnacle of their careers. To an outside observer, however, this might not seem to be the case for tennis players. Four times a year, they have a chance to contest in the biggest tournaments in their sport; winning multiple slam titles etches their names into the tennis history books much more than Olympic gold.

Despite having either their flag or their country code etched next to their name on every tournament scoreboard, the only other time players theoretically get the chance to represent their country is in Fed Cup. Some crack under the pressure; Lesia Tsurenko, Ukraine’s new No. 1, lost all three of her matches en route to a 3-2 defeat to Canada. Tsurenko made a staggering 91 unforced errors in a three-set loss to Sharon Fichman, a match she and a tie Ukraine was heavily favored to win.

Others rise to the occasion. Australian wunderkind Ashleigh Barty defeated Stefanie Voegele in her Fed Cup singles debut to send Australia into the World Group in 2014. Roberta Vinci delivered the clinching 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-3 win over Lucie Safarova to send Italy into the Fed Cup final; on the other side of the world, Ekaterina Makarova capped Russia’s stunning comeback against Slovakia by rallying from 4-2 down in the final set against Daniela Hantuchova to knot the tie at 2-2. She and Elena Vesnina later rallied from a set down in the doubles to put Russia into the finals against Italy.

In an individual sport like tennis, where so much emphasis is placed on singles achievements, players still rate playing for their country incredibly high. But does this national success come at a cost?

Samantha Stosur, who has been carrying the remnants of a calf injury since Indian Wells, went 2-0 in her Fed Cup ties for Australia; she lost in the opening round in Stuttgart to Jelena Jankovic. Vinci, Italy’s heroine, looked listless in a 6-4, 6-2 opening round defeat to Yaroslava Shvedova in Stuttgart as well; the top seeds in the doubles event, she and Sara Errani later pulled out of the doubles event due to Vinci’s shoulder injury. Vesnina slumped to a shocking 6-0, 6-4 defeat to Mirjana Lucic-Baroni. Makarova dueled with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, her Fed Cup teammate, in the opening round; Makarova slipped up from a winning position, and seemed to run of gas late in the third set.

In Marrakech, Dominika Cibulkova was set to take a wildcard and be the top seed in the event; however, she apparently picked up an injury after playing three rubbers against Russia and was forced to withdraw from the event anyway. As rain wreaked havoc in Chiasso, the Australia-Switzerland tie did not commence until Monday; Romina Oprandi, Switzerland’s No. 1, was scheduled to compete in Marrakech but she also withdrew before play began.

Granted, not every player was negatively affected by her participation in Fed Cup this week. Ana Ivanovic is into her first clay-court quarterfinal since Rome in 2010. Angelique Kerber, who went 1-1 in Fed Cup, is also into the quarterfinals in Germany. Carla Suarez Navarro led Spain back into the World Group and knocked off Caroline Wozniacki in the first round in Stuttgart. Shvedova, who was mired in a dreadful slump, advanced to the quarterfinals at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.

There have been murmurs that players are largely unhappy with the increase in mandatory Fed Cup participation for the next Olympic cycle. These players put so much heart, effort and passion into playing for their countries, yet are still put in a bind because of the scheduling issues. In a sport where players are constantly representing their nations, it seems like they still end up with the short end of the stick. In certain instances, it’s almost as though a player needs to choose between national glory and individual success.

Fed Cup Posts Official Scorecards, Tennis Nerds Everywhere Rejoice (aka just me)

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I love Fed Cup for a variety of reasons. The team camaraderie, the endless drama and its ‘three times a year’ status makes it a unique experience compared to the grind of the tour. When reviewing the results yesterday, however, I discovered something that makes Fed Cup even more awesome. The Fed Cup website archived PDF, printed files of every match scorecard from the World Group Semifinals, World Group Playoffs and World Group II Playoffs.

After making my discovery, I freaked out about it on Twitter. A lot.

Those of you who read my blog or follow me on Twitter know about my penchant for anything officiating related, and I had never seen a scorecard from a professional match before. It’s obviously one of the things you’re taught at officials’ school, but it’s pretty cool it see it in practice.

One of the chair umpire’s numerous responsibilities in a match is to keep track of the official scorecard. The chair umpire records points, games and sets on a scorecard in a seemingly complicated series of shorthand markings. The chair umpire signs the scorecard at the end of the match and then delivers it without delay to either the chief umpire or the referee; it is taken as an official record of everything that occurred in the match. The failure of the chair umpire to sign and deliver the scorecard does not invalidate the match, making tennis different from the other scorecard sport: golf.

(An interesting anecdote: in 2008, Ivo Karlovic allegedly set the record (at the time) for most aces in a match at Roland Garros in a five-set, first round loss to Alejandro Falla. The official tournament statisticians gave Karlovic 39 aces; however, the chair umpire, Louise Engzell recorded only 35 on her scorecard. The previous record (to that point) of 37 was set by Andy Roddick in 2001. The tournament came to the conclusion that Engzell was correct and her card held more credibility than the tournament statistician, but he continued to be credited in certain circles with 39 aces, not 35. The official ATP statistics, taken from her scorecard, list him with 35.)

I received a lot of feedback on Twitter about scorecards and the majority of people that I heard from seemed to be confused as to how to read one. As a result, I’ve decided to take an official scorecard from this weekend’s Fed Cup tie and break it down step by step. I’ve chosen to break down Petra Kvitova’s 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 win against Sara Errani in the World Group Semifinals.

Basics

Before going to court, the chair umpire (here, Mariana Alves) is expected to fill out as much of the basic match information as possible, including the name of the event, player names, his or her name, first ball change and other relevant information.

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Following the coin toss, the chair umpire finishes the top portion of the scorecard by indicating who won the toss and the choice made. Here, Kvitova won the toss and elected to receive; had she deferred the decision to Errani, the ‘x’ would’ve still been next to Kvitova’s name, but the choice would’ve been written next to Errani’s.

Keeping scorecard marking to a minimum allows a chair umpire to keep play continuous and spend more time watching players, coaches, spectators, etc. for possible code violations and carry out his or her other responsibilities.

Game Scoring

Once the order of serve is established, the serving sequence is listed in the left-hand column of this particular format of scorecard. Kvitova chose to receive, so Errani is listed first and so on.

NOTE: This archived format is the digital version of the official scorecard that’s used by the ITF. In a paper scorecard, the server’s initials are placed on the left side correlating to the side of the court (usually the chair umpire’s right or left) that the serve is coming from. You can find that full scorecard here, but I’ve included parts of what it looks like here. I marked the “Server’s Side” column in red.

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For the serve, aces are marked with A’s, double faults with D’s and missed first serves with a small dot mid-line. A slash mark is placed in the the corresponding box to the player who wins the point. The score on the card is read just as the score is announced; the server’s points are marked in the top box (first), while the returner’s points are recorded on the bottom (second). In the first game, Errani held to 30 and was forced to hit second serves on both the 15-30 point and 40-30 point to hold. Therefore, the score progression was as follows: 0-15, 15-15, 15-30, 30-30, 40-30, Game Errani.

Screen Shot 2013-04-21 at 6.19.51 PMBreaks of serve are indicated by an ‘X’ through the game number in the column entitled GAME (see first scorecard) and are marked via a shaded box in the scorecard above. Errani broke serve in the second, fourth and eighth games of the first set, while Kvitova broke serve in the seventh. The start time and end time of the set, as well as the final score are noted accordingly.

Significant Events

Chair umpires are also required to make note of what are called “significant events’ on their scorecards. These include injuries and medical timeouts, bathroom breaks, cramps, toilet breaks and detailed information regarding code violations. These are particularly important for code violations, as they help in determining a player’s fine afterwards. Each of these statistics are recorded in the appropriate table on the official scorecard.

Screen Shot 2013-04-21 at 6.45.13 PMIn the Kvitova-Errani match, Alves issued a time violation to Kvitova at 2-3*, 40-30 in the second set. The violation is marked with the date, time, score and specific nature of the violation. Here, it is recorded under the scoresheet for the second set.

Screen Shot 2013-04-21 at 6.47.20 PMIn addition, both Kvitova and Errani took a bathroom break prior to the start of the final set. This was also archived accordingly.

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Conclusion

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At the end of the match, the winner’s name along with the final score are recorded separately. The time the match began, the time it ended and the duration of the match are all recorded by the chair umpire, who then signs the card and lists his or her certification.

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Marion, Misunderstood

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This post first appeared on Tennis Grandstand.

The year was 2004. Cesar Millan was yet to be called “The Dog Whisperer.” Ridiculously successful sequels Shrek 2Spiderman 2 and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban were dominating the box office. The Red Sox were winning playoff games and the Russians were winning slams.

And Marion Bartoli was playing Fed Cup.

As a 19-year-old, Bartoli partnered Emilie Loit in doubles in two separate ties that year; the pairing won their doubles match in a 5-0 semifinal win against Spain, but lost the deciding rubber to the Russian duo of Anastasia Myskina and Vera Zvonareva in the finals. 2004 marked the only time that Bartoli had competed in the national ITF team event in her career.

Until now.

New French Fed Cup captain Amelie Mauresmo announced on Wednesday that Bartoli, along with Alize Cornet, Kristina Mladenovic and Virginie Razzano will be the French squad that will take on Germany in a World Group II first round tie on February 9-10 in Limoges.

Bartoli’s previous point of contention with the French Tennis Federation came from the role, or lack thereof, of her father in Fed Cup ties. Previous Fed Cup captains Loic Courteau and Nicolas Escude, as well as the federation itself, took issue with the fact that Bartoli wanted to be coached by her father during the ties, rather than practice together with the team. The parties involved also questioned the nature of Marion’s relationship with her father.

“In France, they think our relationship is, so to speak, fake, and that in public it’s big smiles and behind the scenes I’m getting pushed around every day,” she said to Christopher Clarey of The New York Times in 2012. “When I try to explain to them that is not the case, they have a hard time to understand.”

More than just the French public and tennis administration have had a hard time understanding the Bartolis. To say that they have gone outside the box in their approach to Marion’s tennis training is putting it mildly. One of the WTA’s more colorful characters, Bartoli’s shadow swings between every point have become her trademark, and she (allegedly) boasts an IQ of 175. She and her antics are always a spectacle on the WTA, no matter where she plays; nonetheless, these things are what endear her to her fans.

Due to her Fed Cup absence, Bartoli was ruled ineligible to compete at the Olympic Games. Three Games have come and gone since Bartoli made a name for herself on the circuit, but it was perhaps the last snub that hurt her the most and may have contributed to this reconciliation. The 2012 London Olympics were held at the site of Bartoli’s greatest career successes, on the lawns of the All-England Club. Without Bartoli, Cornet required an special invitation to compete, as she did not make the cut by ranking; she won a match before falling tamely to Daniela Hantuchova in the second round. Many argued that Bartoli would have been an outside, but no less legitimate, medal contender on the surface.

So the question remains: after nine years, 17 ties and a boatload of conflict, why now? Some detractors will state Bartoli’s chances to represent her country in the Olympics have come and gone; she’ll be 32 when the Olympics in Rio come around in 2016. Others would say she’s selfish for making the concessions, and is only looking to repair her image at home after the 2012 debacle. Both parties remained stubborn throughout this saga, and each holds a share of the blame.

No one can question Marion Bartoli’s patriotism. Despite all the quirks, the results don’t lie; a Wimbledon finalist with wins, among others, over Serena Williams, Justine Henin, Victoria Azarenka and Kim Clijsters in her career, Bartoli’s made the most of what she has. With the crowd behind her, she reached the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2011, the best performance at that event by a Frenchwoman since Mary Pierce won the title there in 2000 and reached the final again in 2005. All of that success has come with her father by her side, with little support from the national federation.

However, for this tie, Walter Bartoli will not be on site to help Marion prepare for her matches; he will be allowed to attend, but only as a family member. While we may not ever know what was said between Mauresmo and Bartoli over the past weeks, one thing is certain; someone finally understood.

Fed Cup Finals Preview

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Czech Republic vs. Serbia: O2 Arena, Prague, Czech Republic

Czech Republic: Petra Kvitova, Lucie Safarova, Andrea Hlavackova, Lucie Hradecka (Sub: Klara Zakopalova)

Serbia: Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Bojana Jovanovski, Aleksandra Krunic

It’s that time of year again – the 2012 Fed Cup final is upon us. The 2012 edition will pit the defending champions, the Czech Republic against Serbia, who are making their first appearance in the Fed Cup finals.

The x-factor in this tie is Petra Kvitova. The World No. 8, who went 2-0 in the Fed Cup final in 2011, has had a somewhat disappointing year plagued by injuries and illness following her breakout year in 2011. Kvitova, who was forced to withdraw from the WTA Championships as defending champion after just one match with bronchitis, was not cleared to practice by her doctors until Wednesday. When healthy, Kvitova is a force indoors – her loss to Radwanska at the WTA Championships was her first loss on indoor hard courts in more than a year.

Due to the question marks surrounding Kvitova, much of the pressure for the hosts falls on the shoulders of Lucie Safarova. Safarova will open singles play on Saturday against Ana Ivanovic, who she leads 3-2 in head-to-head meetings. Safarova has won three straight matches against Ivanovic, the last coming in the quarterfinals in Sydney in January. Her head-to-head against Jelena Jankovic is a much different story, as the Serb hold a 5-1 advantage. It’s going to be crucial to Czech hopes for Safarova to get them off to a good start in the opening match.

The Serbian squad is not without their own issues. Ivanovic is entering the tie suffering from lingering right hip issues, an injury she sustained in her final tournament of the year in Moscow. Despite the injury, Ivanovic is coming off her best season in singles since 2008; she reached the quarterfinals at the US Open, her first appearance at that stage since winning Roland Garros in 2008. She will also finish the year ranked World No. 12, her highest ranking since dropping out of the top 10 in 2009. And Jankovic? Sometimes I wonder if Jelena is really a tennis player anymore. Jankovic did not win a title in 2012, nor did she make it past the fourth round at any Grand Slam. However, Jelena tends to show up for Fed Cup. She’s 3-0 in her Fed Cup matches this year, and was just awarded her second Fed Cup Heart Award.

If the tie comes down to the doubles, no doubt the Czechs would have the advantage. Hlavackova/Hradecka won the 2011 French Open title, and were runners-up at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Year-End Championships in 2012. They also took home a silver medal at the London Olympics, as they fell to the Williams sisters in straight sets. While Serbia has Krunic/Jovanovski listed on paper, Dejan Vranes could also go with Krunic/Jankovic. Hlavackova and Hradecka are the #3 and #4 doubles players in the world while Krunic is ranked #335 and Jovanovski is ranked #1067. Despite all odds, I think this rubber could be the most interesting of them all.

Regardless of her partner, Aleksandra Krunic has to see action at some point in this tie. The 19-year-old Krunic is a bit of a Fed Cup wonder; while she’s struggled in a sense to make her breakthrough on the WTA tour (she’s currently ranked 167 and made her first WTA quarterfinal in Baku this year, losing to….Jovanovski), she’s shone brightly when thrust into the pressure cooker of Fed Cup. What Krunic lacks in size, as she can’t be taller than 5’4”, she makes up for in heart and incredible doubles prowess. Her reactions are my favorite thing in tennis. Krunic and Jovanovski have vastly out-performed their doubles rankings in high-pressure Fed Cup situations. Observe.

Exhibit A: Krunic and Jovanovski led a Jankovic and Ivanovic-less Serbia past Canada in the 2011 World Group II Quarterfinal, securing Serbia’s place in the World Group Playoffs last year.

Exhibit B: Krunic (partnering Jankovic) singlehandedly saved two match points in what became a 26 75 97 win over Slovakia in the deciding rubber of the World Group Playoffs in 2011 on the road.

Krunic and Jovanovski also clinched victory for Serbia over Belgium in the 2012 World Group First Round with a 76(2) 46 61 win over Wickmayer/Van Uytvanck, also on the road.

If I’m Vranes, I’d go out on a limb and stick with Krunic and Jovanovski. Granted, they’ve never been in *this* big of a situation before, but the pair have clinched two ties for this team in the past 18 months. Considering Serbia is a huge underdog in the doubles rubber anyway, how can it hurt?

Fed Cup – Fun and Frolic

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Fed Cup time is the best time, and this is why. On the eve of the World Group semifinals and playoffs, observe typical team bonding activities.

Bojana Jovanovski, Jelena Jankovic and Aleksandra Krunic form a less than intimidating biker gang.

Johanna Larsson and Sofia Arvidsson already booked their tickets to the gun show. Put ‘em up, ladies.

Flavia Pennetta reveals her master plan to help Italy to victory against the Czechs – puppeteering the hosts to do her bidding from the bench. Roberta Vinci approves.

Andrea Petkovic, returning to compete for Germany after a back injury, realizes why alternative dance therapy was a bad idea. Mona Barthel tried to tell her, but she wouldn’t listen.

(Photos: Fed Cup)

Fed Cup Semifinals Preview

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Russia vs. Serbia: Sports Palace “Megasport” – Moscow, Russia

 

Russia – Elena Vesnina, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Maria Kirilenko, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Serbia- Jelena Jankovic, Ana Ivanovic, Bojana Jovanovski, Aleksandra Krunic

With the absence of World #2 Maria Sharapova, and World #10 Vera Zvonareva sidelined with an injury, Russia’s hopes for the tie lie with World #21 Maria Kirilenko. Kirilenko has had a quietly successful year in singles, highlighted by a runner-up finish in Pattaya City (l. to Hantuchova) and a quarterfinal showing in Indian Wells (l. to Sharapova). Somewhat shockingly, however, Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev has elected to leave her out of the opening day in singles. Instead, he will turn to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Both, particularly Pavlyuchenkova, have not shown stellar form this year, and Tarpischev is taking a huge gamble on the opening day. Kuznetsova, a team stalwart, has played in 15 career Fed Cup ties and this is her second tie this year, having helped her team defeat Spain in the opening round. Russia also possess strong prowess in doubles, as Kirilenko is currently ranked #7 in the discipline. Elena Vesnina, currently ranked #11, has been ranked in the top 10 in doubles, and Kuznetsova has won two career Grand Slams in doubles, including at the Australian Open earlier this year partnering Zvonareva.

Serbia will have both their marquee players headlining their squad, as former World #1’s Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic will be playing their first tie this season. However, both are surrounded by question marks coming into Moscow. Ivanovic, who has experienced a resurgence in form this season, reached the fourth round at the Australian Open (l. to Kvitova). However, despite these successes, she has reportedly split with coach Nigel Sears. Jankovic, on the other hand, is far from her best form; despite reaching the semifinals in Copenhagen last week (l. to Kerber), she has lost in her opening round three times this season, including in Indian Wells and Miami. The burden will not solely be on the veteran’s shoulders, as youngsters Bojana Jovanovski and Aleksandra Krunic have already proven themselves capable of competing at the highest level in the team competition. The two rallied the team from 2-1 down against Belgium in the opening round earlier this year; Jovanovski won her 2nd singles match and then teamed with Krunic to clinch the deciding doubles tie.

Russia leads Serbia 3-0 in the career head to head, and the last meeting was a 3-2 victory for the Russians in the 2010 World Group first round.

Czech Republic vs. Italy: CEZ Arena – Ostrava, Cezch Republic

Czech Republic – Lucie Hradecka, Lucie Safarova, Petra Kvitova, Andrea Hlavackova

Italy - Roberta Vinci, Flavia Pennetta, Francesca Schiavone, Sara Errani

Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova will be leading the Czech squad at home against a veteran Italian team. Because of injury and illness, the World #3 has only played three matches since the Czechs defeated Germany in their opening match in the World Group in February. She has, however, won 27 consecutive matches on indoor hard courts, explaining the choice of surface and venue for the hosts. Safarova, a stalwart in the top 30 for the past few seasons, is coming off a run to the finals in Charleston (l. to Serena Williams) and has been in decent form to start the season. Kvitova and Safarova will be expected to play singles for the host nation, while defending French Open champions Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka are on tap for the doubles rubber.

Italy, the Fed Cup champions in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010, are in a state of flux entering the semifinals. Both Schiavone and Vinci have been struggling to find form this season, while Sara Errani has established herself as one of the breakout players of the 2012 season. Errani, a two-time title winner already on the WTA this season, also made the quarterfinals of the Australian Open (l. to Kvitova). Italian captain Corrado Barazzutti will have to rely heavily on Errani in this tie, as she has been tapped to play singles behind Francesca Schiavone. She and Roberta Vinci have also been selected for doubles; they have partnered for three WTA doubles titles this season, and were runners-up at the Australian Open.

The head-to-head is 4-3 in favor of the Czechs, however, Italy has won three in a row. The last meeting between these two teams came in 2012, where Italy swept aside the Czechs, 5-0 in the semifinals. “It will be good revenge,” Kvitova remarked about the tie. “Last time when played against them we lost 5-0, so it wasn’t really a good result and we have bad memories from this.”

(Photos & quotes: Fed Cup)