2016 Fed Cup World Group: Fearless ForecastDecember 07, 2015

The first round of the 2016 Fed Cup World Group will be held on February 6 and 7, a week after the Australian Open. The venues were announced recently. Health would be a factor, as many players complained about the summer heat these past years. But they have extra motivation. (Those who want to compete in the Summer Olympics must participate in the Fed Cup.) Here are the four first-round matchups:

Czech Republic versus Romania. The Czech Republic defended their title at the O2 Arena last month. They will meet the Romanians, and the tie will be played in Cluj-Napoca, Romania's second largest city. Simona Halep and Irina-Camelia Begu can beat Petra Kvitová, the top Czech player. Lucie ŠafáÅ™ová has yet to recover her form. Polyvalent Hall, a multi-purpose indoor arena, might be turned into a clay court. Petr Pála's charges may be looking at a playoff on 2017.

France versus Italy. Palais des Sports de Marseille will host the tie. The Italians are supposed to be the favorites, but there are factors to consider. Can Corrado Barazzutti change Flavia Pennetta's mind? Will fans see Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci play together? Can Barazzutti count on Camilia Giorgi? Amelie Mauresmo, on the other hand, is certain of Kristina Mladenovic to do well. (Mladenovic made her first Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance in Flushing Meadows last summer.) Caroline Garcia thrives on pressure, while Alizé Cornet can win a match or two. The French team will advance to the semifinals.

Germany versus Switzerland. This tie will be contested at Leipziger Messe. The Swiss team are slightly favored over the Germans, with Belinda Bencic and Timea Bacsinszky on the front. German Fed Cup captain Barbara Rittner has Angelique Kerber, Andrea Petkovic, and Sabine Lisicki on her side, but consistency has been an issue with these three. Expect the Swiss team to prevail in this contest.

Netherlands versus Russia. Russian Tennis Federation decided the tie to be played in the Olympic Stadium, and the (indoor) hard court would be the likely choice of surface. The Russians are the heavy favorites, as captain Anastasia Myskina has many options. Maria Sharapova might not be available, but it won't be a problem. (Svetlana Kuznetsova, two-time Grand Slam champion, is an all-around player.) Myskina might be thinking about the semifinals, where Russia will meet France or Italy.

The World Group II features Slovakia versus Australia. The Aussies are certain of victory if Sam Stosur is in good form. Captain Alicia Molik can expect a win from Casey Dellacqua and Jarmila Gajdošová. On the other hand, the US will play host to Poland. Mary Joe Fernandez is hoping the Williams sisters will be available, but there won't be a problem if they don't. (Madison Keys and Sloane Stephens can handle the RadwaÅ„ska sisters.) Serbia will play Spain. The host team will advance if Garbiñe Muguruza won't join her teammates. Belarus will compete against Canada in Quebec City. Unless Victoria Azarenka shows up, the Canadians will move to the World Group.

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