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)