WASHINGTON, February 6, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
With the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of 2020, in the books, focus turns from individual to team glory at the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Qualifiers. Sixteen teams will compete across North and South America and in Europe Friday and Saturday for a chance to advance to the inaugural Finals in Budapest.
The eight Qualifier tie winners this weekend will join 2019 Fed Cup champion France, 2019 finalist Australia, wild card entry Czech Republic and host Hungary for the Fed Cup Finals April 14-19. The draw for the Finals will take place on February 11 in Budapest.
Of interest, nine of the current world’s top 20 players will compete in the Fed Cup Qualifiers, formatted to include two singles matches on Friday (home nation No. 1 vs. away nation No. 2, home No. 2 vs. away No. 1) followed by reverse singles and doubles on Saturday. Featured will be No. 5 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, No. 6 Bianca Andreescu of Canada, No. 7 Sophia Kenin, No. 9 Serena Williams and No. 18 Alison Riske of the United States; No. 8 Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, No. 10 Naomi Osaka of Japan, No. 13 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and No. 19 Elise Mertens of Belgium.
Before she departed Melbourne with the Australian Open singles title secured, Kenin said: “I feel like I’m doing some great things for American tennis. It’s such an honor.
“I’ve watched Serena. I’ve been following her, all the slams she’s been winning. It’s a special feeling just to be ahead of her. I’m just super excited – I can’t wait to compete, be on the same team with her in Fed Cup.
“Playing Fed Cup is completely different. I feel like I’m representing my country. I feel like I have a team – there are so many people behind me, especial with Kathy (Rinaldi) on the bench. So, there’s a lot of emotions, and you can feel it – with the crowd supporting you, you really feel it’s Fed Cup, and you don’t want to let your team down.”
Serving at 0-40, 2-2 in the deciding set of a Grand Slam final…
— Fed Cup (@FedCup) February 3, 2020
Meanwhile, Bencic said she’s looking forward to her country’s tie against Canada. She told FedCup.com, “I always enjoy playing Fed Cup, playing for my country, and especially playing at home.” Bencic will be joined by Swiss teammates Jil Teichmann, Viktorija Golubic, Stefanie Voegele and Timea Bacsinszky. “It’s a different format now, and we’re all curious how it’s going to be, that’s why I would love to play in Budapest. For me, it’s definitely a big goal.”
One player who likes the new format is Spain’s Carla Suárez Navarro. “I like the format,” she said. “You have to play every match at 100 percent. That was the case before, but now you only have three points, so you have to go for it. I like it.”
Belgium’s Mertens has never faced either of Kazakhstan’s top two players, Yulia Putintseva and Zarina Diyas. “For me, it’s going to be a difficult one – you’ve got a lot of good singles players, especially from Kazakhstan’s two first players,” she said. “It’s going to be very tough, but I think we have a great team and with the experience we have together we can make it happen.”
Finally, Sabalenka admits it’s tough to play against one country in two days – and the Netherlands chose to play their tie against Belarus on clay. “I’m a bit surprised by the surface,” she said. “It’s going to be better for them, but in the middle of the hard court season, that’s going to be a huge challenge. It’ll be interesting to see how it’s going to be.”
• Latvia at United States: Much attention will be on the United States team, which faces Latvia for the first time in Fed Cup in Everett, Washington (near Seattle). Anchoring the U.S. lineup at singles will be World No. 7 Sofia Kenin and No. 9 Serena Williams. They will be opposed by former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia. The American team also includes No. 18 Alison Riske, 15-year-old Coco Gauff and nine-time Grand Slam doubles champion Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
• Belarus at Netherlands: Former World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and current No. 13 Aryna Sabalenka lead Belarus while the host Dutch will counter with No. 8 Kiki Bertens and doubles No. 14 Demi Schuurs.
• Russia at Romania: Without World No. 2 Simona Halep, last year’s semifinalists Romania will field a young lineup that includes Ana Bogdan against a very experienced Russian team that is headlined by Svetlana Kuznetsova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, veterans of a combined 33 Fed Cup ties.
• Germany at Brazil: Laura Siegemund and Tatjana Maria lead the two-time champion Germans against a young Brazilian squad that features Gabriela Ce and Teliana Pereira.
• Japan at Spain: Thirty-one year-old Carla Suárez Navarro, a Fed Cup mainstay for the Spanish since 2008, will likely play her last tie on home soil. Making her third appearance for Japan is World No. 10 Naomi Osaka.
• Canada at Switzerland: What could shape up to be one of the most exciting ties of the weekend will take place in Biel, Switzerland, as the Swiss host the Canadians. Arguably, the biggest singles rubber will match World No. 5 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland against No. 6 Bianca Andreescu from Canada, who has been idle since the WTA Finals in Shenzhen last October. It’s a rematch of their US Open semifinal, in which Andreescu won 7-6 (3), 7-5 en route to winning her first Grand Slam title. French Open junior champion Leylah Fernandez, ranked No. 185, is also on the Canadian team.
• Kazakhstan at Belgium: World No. 19 Elise Mertens tops the Belgian lineup and the Kazakhs will counter with Yulia Putintseva and Zarina Diyas.
• Great Britain at Slovakia: The four-time Fed Cup finalist British will by led by Heather Watson and includes Harriet Dart and Katie Swan. Meanwhile, Viktoria Kuzmova and Jana Cepelova anchor the Slovakian team.