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The return of Andrea Petkovic

   

Five things about the Fed Cup

Germany re-born
Heading into the 2011 tennis season, the top 30 was without a single German female, and no German woman had made the last eight of a grand slam in almost five years. A year and a bit later, how things have changed. Marshalled by the return of Andrea Petkovic, the rise of Sabine Lisicki, Angelique Kerber and Mona Barthel, the improvement of Julia Goerges, and the steadying experience of Anna-Lena Groenefeld, there are now four Germans ranked inside the top 20 for the first time since 1988 (Petkovic at No.11, Lisicki at No.13, Kerber at No.14 and Goerges No.16).

With that in mind, there’s no doubt the horns will be blaring inside Stuttgart’s Porsche Arena as Germany take on Australia in their World Group play-off. With Petkovic back in action after a prolonged back injury, Kerber’s success in Copenhagen last week, and the steadying presence of the rest of the bunch, Team Deutschland will be feeling confidence that they can prevail over Sam Stosur, Jarmila Gajdosova, Casey Dellacqua and Olivia Rogowska in their own back yard.

Ana’s back
Amid all the team selection kerfuffle, what with Spain, Australia and Russia’s picks making the headlines for the wrong reasons, the one nation that was remarkably silent was Serbia. That’s because, in what is still a relatively rare occurrence, Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic will be sharing a team bench for Serbia’s first appearance in the Fed Cup semi-finals when they take on Russia in Moscow. Back up to world No.15, Ivanovic is joined by Jankovic, the world No.18, Bojana Jovanovski, No.96, and Aleksandra Krunic, No.195.

“We have had a good team for a while, but we never seem to come together,” Ivanovic said. “It makes it that much harder with Olympics and everything else, but I definitely love to play, semi-finals is just one step from final and then title. So I’m trying to make it a priority and keep it in my schedule,”

Kvitova out for revenge
It’s rare to hear the softly-spoken Wimbledon champion speak of something so harsh as ‘revenge,’ but Petra Kvitova is relishing the chance to redress the hurt of a 5-0 loss at the hands of Italy in the 2010 semi-finals. The two sides are meeting for the first time since Italy dealt that thrashing, but this time, the Czech Republic have home advantage on their side, competing in the indoor stadium in Ostrava. “I will have a lot of fans there…,” the Wimbledon champion said. “For Davis Cup it is always full and now we are playing Fed Cup there we hope it will be full again.”

It’s also just 20 minutes away from Bilovec, where she was born, and given the indoor surface, there’s little doubt that Kvitova, assisted by Lucie Safarova, Lucie Hradecka and Andrea Hlavackova should have no problems sending the Czech Republic through into a second consecutive Fed Cup final. Whether the Italian team of Francesca Schiavone, Roberta Vinci, Flavia Pennetta and Sara Errani will think differently remains to be seen.

Hi Serena
The other tie of note is Ukraine’s quest to spoil the Serena Williams return party, as the host nation take on the mighty USA in Kharkiv in their World Group play-off. It’s the first meeting between the two nations, the USA trying to bounce right back into the World Group after being relegated in 2011 for the first time, Ukraine also trying to get back up having lost to Italy.

That said, the rankings should say it all. Serena, ranked No.9, is joined by Christina McHale, the world No.36 and a real rising star, as well as Sloane Stephens, another rising star, at No.77, and the world No.1 in doubles, Liezel Huber. Ukraine meanwhile have Lesia Tsurenko, at world No.110, Elina Svitolina, No.171, and two youngsters ranked outside the top 350. A done deal, you might think. But then, this is Fed Cup.

The belles of Boras
Captained by the omni-cheerful Judy Murray, Britain’s women are competing in their first World Group II play-off since 1993, taking on Sweden in the chilly-ish surrounds of Boras. The team of four, Elena Baltacha, Anne Keothavong, Heather Watson and Laura Robson, is unchanged from the side that emerged unscathed from the tenterhooks of the Europe/Africa Zone Group I, a 15-team pool group that takes place over a week, and hopes are high that they can overcome what Sweden have to offer.

But the host nation have two quality players in Sofia Arvidsson, the world No.54, and Johanna Larsson, the world No.71, and, having won the last two meetings against Team GB, in 2001 and 2007, will be quietly confident on home turf. They may have reckoned without captain Murray and her British bulldogs (on the captain’s bench, that is), and, all things being equal, this could be a real nail-biter.

“I’ve got four very gorgeous, fun girls in my team, and it’s great to show off that side of the sport, the lighter side, to show girls that this is a really great sport to be playing,” Murray told The Tennis Space. “It would be great to have a home tie in the Fed Cup soon – there hasn’t been one for years – so the British public can really understand what it’s about.”