Fed Cup reaches the penultimate roundApril 17, 2017

Australia Fed Cup team, the winner of seven Fed Cup titles, find themselves in an unfamiliar position. They must travel to Serbia this weekend and keep their place in the World Group II. The tie will be held in the northern city of Zrenjanin, and the Tennis Federation of Serbia would pick the hard court. It could be difficult for the players, as the European clay court season would go on full swing. As a matter of fact, all four World Group Play-offs will be played on red dirt.

Sam Stosur, the top-ranked Aussie player, won't be joining her teammates. Aussie captain Alicia Molik will rely on two young players, namely Daria Gavrilova and Ashleigh Barty. Veteran Casey Dellacqua will be one-half of the all-important doubles team if the tie will be decided on the women's doubles. Australia might seem at a disadvantage, as they will play away from home. Moreover, Stosur's experience can be a huge boost. But Jelena Janković won't be around. Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 French Open champion, already hung her racket. Both Gavrilova and Barty have decent success on the WTA Tour these last few years. In other words, Australia has another chance of returning to the World Group Play-offs next season.

World Group II Playoffs will see Italy hosting Chinese-Taipei, Great Britain playing in Romania, and Canada meeting Kazakhstan in Montreal. The wealth of experience of the Italian team will be good enough for the win while Canada's home court advantage will give them the edge over their visiting opponents. The British team would be the overwhelming favourites, but clay won't be the best surface for Johanna Konta and Heather Watson. On the other hand, there may be little chance of the home fans to see Simona Halep donning the national colours. The British girls would win the tie if they could be resilient throughout the match.

How about the World Group Play-off? Garbiñe Muguruza, the defending French Open champion, won't be travelling to Roanne, France due to a discomfort in her tendon. Carla Suárez Navarro is still healing her right shoulder injury. Conchita Martinez's squad is the underdog in this tie, and jitters could be the only way for an unlikely upset over the highly-fancied French team. On the other hand, the Russians won't have any problems with the visiting Belgian squad. (Daria Kasatkina won her first singles title in Charleston, North Carolina last weekend.) The Slovak Republic are the slight favourites over the Netherlands. The Germany-Ukraine tie can be anyone's guess, though. Stuttgart will the venue (of the tie), and Angelique Kerber will lead the German team. She would still be looking for that form that brought her two major titles last season. Elina Svitolina and Lena Tsurenko have Top 5 potentials if they could be consistent throughout the season. The visiting team may score a huge upset.

This brings us to the most anticipated ties, namely Czech Republic against the US and Belarus playing Switzerland. USTA was wise to choose the clay court, but it won't give the host team a huge advantage over the visiting Czech squad. US non-playing captain Kathy Rinaldi won't field the Williams sisters, Madison Keys, and Sloane Stephens, all of whom are on the injury list or have got back from an injury layoff. This will put the Czech squad in a good position (to advance to the finals). On the other hand, the Swiss team are the overwhelming favourites over a Belarussian team that won't feature Victoria Azarenka. (The two-time Australian Open winner is on maternity leave.) Then again, Belarus will be playing in front of the home fans. Furthermore, the Belarussian squad is capable of an upset. It will be the Swiss gals unless they will be off form.

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