2017 Fed Cup: Who will win the opening round?November 17, 2016

The Czech Republic rallied on the second day of the Fed Cup finals, winning the last singles rubber and the deciding doubles rubber against the host nation France. The 3-2 victory gave the Czech Republic Fed Cup team their third straight Fed Cup, their fifth during the last six years. The former Czechoslovakia captured the Fed Cup on 1975, 1983, 1984, 1985, and 1988, giving them a total of 10. It would put them second behind the United States, winner of 17 Fed Cup titles.

The Czech Republic women's team is a powerhouse in the WTA Tour, with Martina Navratilova and Hana Mandlíková dominating the game during the 1970s and 1980s. Helena Suková and Jana Novotná were one of the top doubles teams during the 1980s, and they have success in the singles as well. The current team included Petra Kvitová, who recently had success in the Asian swing, and Karolína Plíšková, runner-up at the US Open. The French team would have won their third Fed Cup if the French Tennis Federation chose clay (as the surface). The Czech team has the least success in dirt, but Amélie Mauresmo's charges should better luck next time. As a matter of fact, the draw of the 2017 Fed Cup has been out. The opening round will be held on February 11-12, and France is in the bottom half. They're the slight favorites to reach the finals for the second straight year, but let's not get too far ahead. It will be another long season. Let's look at the match-ups in the World Group:

Czech Republic (1) vs. Spain. The three-time defending champion will host this rubber, and it will likely be held in indoor hard court. The Czechs are the overwhelming favorites on paper, but the Spain Fed Cup team boasts of Garbiñe Muguruza and Carla Suárez Navarro. Both players have been inconsistent this season, if not their form affected by injuries. If they found their A-game, then Spanish captain Conchita Martínez would have something to be delighted about. It will be the Czech Republic over Spain (3-2).

Germany (3) vs. The United States. The German team, led by Angelique Kerber, will travel to the US. Fans shouldn't expect Serena Williams to appear in this tie, while Venus Williams can compete if she's healthy enough. (The seven-time Grand Slam champion will likely make another Fed Cup appearance if she loses in the early round of the Australian Open.) Madison Keys, Coco Vandeweghe, and Sloane Stephens can give the German squad a run for their money, as anything can happen in Fed Cup. On the other hand, many remark about Kerber's inability to handle pressure. Then again, she was the most consistent player this season. And expect her to play next February. It will be Germany over the US (3-2).

Belarus vs. Netherlands (4). The Dutch team upset the fancied Russian team in Moscow early this year, and they would travel to Belarus next February. The outcome will depend on Victoria Azarenka. She'll be a new mother, which can affect her schedule. Will she be able to take the long trip? Will she recapture her old form in Australia? It might be too soon, but she'll be back to her dominant self sometime next year. It will be Netherlands over Belarus (4-1).

Switzerland vs. France (2). Mauresmo and the rest of the French squad will play in Switzerland, which isn't alien territory. (Mauresmo is a resident of Geneva.) The Swiss team is a formidable squad, with Timea Bacsinszky and Belinda Bencic leading the singles. Martina Hingis is the most decorated doubles player on tour. Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia may have fell short in the finals last weekend, but they can make it up next February. Both players are too good for their Swiss opponents if they're in good form. It will be France over Switzerland (4-1).

The World Group II matches will be played alongside the World Group, where the four winners will meet the four losers of the opening round of the World Group on April 22-23. Russia will play host to Chinese-Taipei, and the Russians, four-time winner of the Fed Cup, will route their Taiwanese opponents (5-0). Romania, led by Simona Halep, will have no problem with visiting team Belgium (4-1). Italy will play host to Slovakia, and this tie seems to be a close one. Dominika Cibulková, feeling high after winning the WTA Finals last month, will lead the Slovak team to victory over the Italians. (3-2). Last but not the least, host team Ukraine will play Australia. Aussie captain Alicia Molik should be worried about Elina Svitolina. She has been playing better under the watchful eyes of Justine Henin, four-time French Open champion. Many see the native of Kharkiv to break the Top 10 next season, and she can give the Ukrainian team the winning edge over the Australians, seven-time winner of the Fed Cup. Veteran Sam Stosur will have her hands full on this one, but Daria Gavrilova might save the day (for the Aussie team). This tie will come down to the doubles rubber, and Kateryna Bondarenko has experience on her side. It will be Ukraine over Australia (3-2).

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