WASHINGTON, February 8, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
If the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, the world’s largest annual international team competition in women’s sport, has the feeling of a Grand Slam tournament as it begins across the globe this weekend, that’s because 10 of the world’s Top 20 players will be competing in first-round ties during action in the World Group and World Group II as well as Zone Groups I and II on Feb. 9-10. Fed Cup nominations were announced last week and draw ceremonies were held on Friday at the host sites.
Former World No. 1 Simona Halep of Romania, now ranked No. 3 following the Australian Open, and No. 5 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic will go head-to-head during the Czech Republic’s first-round tie against Romania. They were drawn to face each in Rubber 3 on Sunday.
Among other top players in action, No. 9 Aryna Sabalenka (Belarus), No. 12 Anastasija Sevastova (Latvia), No. 13 Ashleigh Barty (Australia), No. 17 Madison Keys (United States), and No. 19 Caroline Garcia (France) are competing in World Group and World Group II ties, while No. 7 Elina Svitolina (Ukraine), No. 14 Daria Kasatkina (Russia), and No. 20 Anett Kontaveit (Estonia) will be participating in Zone Groups I and II.
Defending champion Czech Republic begins its World Group title defense against Romania in Ostrava, Czech Republic. The roster for the 10-time Fed Cup champions is deep in talent and includes: Australian Open semifinalist Pliskova, as well as No. 44 Katrina Siniakova (who is also ranked No. 1 in doubles), No. 72 Marketa Vondrousova and doubles specialist Barbora Krejcikova, who is ranked No. 2 in the world.
Headlining Romania’s lineup, of course, is Halep. The rest of her supporting cast are all currently ranked in or near the Top 100. They include: No. 29 Mihaela Buzarnescu, No. 75 Irina-Camelia Begu, No. 105 Ana Bogdan and No. 106 Monica Niculescu.
The Czechs will be aiming for their third straight triumph over the Romanians, following victories in 1980 and 2016.
The Czech Republic is bidding to reach the #FedCup semifinals for the ELEVENTH consecutive year.
However, a resilient Romania stand in their way… pic.twitter.com/uvXwI9jc2L
— Fed Cup (@FedCup) 8. Februar 2019
Other World Group first-round pairings:
• France vs. Belgium at Liege, Belgium.
• Germany vs. Belarus at Braunschweig, Germany.
• United States vs. Australia at Asheville, North Carolina (U.S.).
Both France (Julien Bennateau) and Belgium (Johan Van Herck) have new Fed Cup captains. The French will lean on Garcia for support while Belgium is led by No. 21 Elise Mertens.
Meanwhile, Germany will go after its second straight semifinal berth behind No. 67 Tatiana Maria and No. 68 Andrea Petkovic while Belarus will try to avenge its 2018 first-round defeat against Germany with Sabalenka and the return of No. 48 Victoria Azarenka following an almost three-year absence. Finally, last year’s finalist United States welcomes back Keys to go along with Australian Open semifinalist Danielle Collins, ranked No. 23, against Australia, which features Barty and No. 47 Daria Gavrilova.
The World Group semifinal ties will be held April 20-21 and the championship tie is scheduled for November 9-10.