Fed Cup will take place over the weekend of February 5-6, and of course the most important matches will be those among the World Group nations. So who plays whom and where in this first-round action?
Australia meets twice defending champion Italy in Hobart. Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone, who secured the win for Italy in 2010, are in for the challenge this year as well. Their strongest opponents this time will be Samantha Stosur, Schiavone's opponent in the 2010 French Open final, and Jarmila Groth, who won her second WTA title in Hobart in January.
Russia, the owner of four Fed Cup titles, will face France in Moscow, and the Russian team will be strengthened by Maria Sharapova, who is making her first appearance at a home tie. Interestingly, Russia hasn't lost at home in eight ties. Also in the Russian team are Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Dinara Safina. As Aravane Rezai and Marion Bartoli will not play, world No.67 Alize Cornet will lead France's team.
Neighbors, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, will clash in Bratislava. Dominika Cibulkova and Daniela Hantuchova will try to improve Slovakia's 0-3 record against the Czech Republic, this time led by world No.18 Petra Kvitova, who started the season with singles title at the Brisbane International and then the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.
Belgium and the United States are meeting up in Antwerp. Kim Clijsters, fresh off her Melbourne title, will play for her country, alongside Yanina Wickmayer. The United States team consists of their loyal players: Bethanie Mattek Sands, Melanie Oudin, Vania King and Liezel Huber.
Additional info: I have to mention that the Fed Cup will be played here in Novi Sad, Serbia, as well. Serbia is facing Canada in the World Group II first round. My Fed Cup weekend has been surrounded by all sorts of bizarre things: first I bought the tickets, then the next day I got the tickets for free, and then I developed some leg infection, pretty much out of nowhere, which is doing better, but I still don't know whether I will be able to go, even though the venue is walking distance from my home. I'm still positive, though!
Bojana Jovanovski will lead Serbia's team, in absence of Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic. Aleksandra Wozniak and Rebecca Marino will be there for Canada. Or am I ill-informed? The WTA Tour website states that Serbia and Canada will play in Belgrade, and that Jankovic will lead Serbia's team! What? Here's the quote: "For Canada, a Jelena Jankovic-led Serbia looms large in Belgrade." (Schiavone photo by Nadia Ballari)