Fed Cup Preview: Angelique Kerber Leads The Field, Play-Offs Set To Overshadow Semifinals - UBITENNIS
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Fed Cup Preview: Angelique Kerber Leads The Field, Play-Offs Set To Overshadow Semifinals

Fed Cup returns again for the last time before the November final, this time with semifinals and play-offs which will set the stage for World Group and World Group II in 2018.

Jakub Bobro

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World Group Semifinals

 

USA – Czech Republic

The tie was initially very hyped, but it died down after both teams are missing their biggest stars. United States put the tie on outdoor clay in Tampa Bay, Florida. This decision may impair their chances, as Team USA is led by Australian Open semifinalist Coco Vandeweghe. Shelby Rogers has been named to be the No. 2 over the higher ranked Lauren Davis, as she has proven herself on clay by reaching the Roland Garros quarterfinals in 2016, but also quarterfinals in Charleston earlier this year. The aforementioned Lauren Davis will most likely only enter the tie in a dead rubber or in case of injury. Doubles World No. 1 Bethanie Mattek-Sands will also be ready to fight in the deciding doubles rubber. Czech Republic are missing their 4 best players in this tie, Kvitova because of injury and the others most likely due to the tie being played in America while the clay season is in Europe. 21 year-old Katerina Siniakova will be the leader and the team’s only Top 50 player. Captain Petr Pala decided to field the teenager and winner of WTA Biel Marketa Vondrousova as the No. 2, so she will play Vandeweghe on Day 1, despite being the lowest ranked nominated player. Kristyna Pliskova would be the presumed No. 2, but her game doesn’t really fit the surface. However, she is a Top 100 doubles player, so she might still be key to the process. Allertova’s 2017 has also been mainly disappointing, racking up a record of 0-6 against Top 100 opponents this year so far, but her best tennis is definitely worthwhile.
My Predictions
Vondrousova def. Vandeweghe
Rogers def. Siniakova
Siniakova def. Vandeweghe
Rogers def. Vondrousova
Mattek-Sands/Vandeweghe def. Kr.Pliskova/Siniakova
USA wins 3-2

Belarus – Switzerland

Belarus hosts the Swiss in Minsk on indoor hard, still having to deal with the absence of Viktoria Azarenka. Home team is led by Aliaksandra Sasnovich, who will try to retain her form from the Biel semifinals, playing on the same surface. Sasnovich won two rubbers against the Netherlands, and will definitely be the biggest threat to Switzerland. 18 year-old Aryna Sabalenka, who completed the win over Netherlands, is again the Belarussian No. 2, both players hoping to gather their Fed Cup spirit and repeat the upset from last time. The doubles team will be Olga Govortsova and Vera Lapko, both players ranked within the Top 200 in doubles, but also very capable singles players. Switzerland got together the best possible team, their No. 1 being Timea Bacsinszky. Viktorija Golubic was picked over Belinda Bencic for the No. 2 spot, mostly due to Bencic’s recent form. Bencic is set to play doubles with Martina Hingis, but Hingis actually played a warm-up tournament with Timea Bacsinszky in Biel, reaching the final together. Golubic is also a solid doubles player and could play with Hingis.
My Predictions
Sasnovich def. Golubic
Bacsinszky def. Sabalenka
Bacsinszky def. Sasnovich
Golubic def. Sabalenka
Switzerland wins 3-1

World Group Play-Offs

France – Spain

Despite the fact that the French federation threatened their players with bans, injured Caroline Garcia and Oceane Dodin are not playing this tie. The only French Top 20 player Kristina Mladenovic is the No. 1, and Yannick Noah nominated Pauline Parmentier for the No. 2 spot on Day 1 over the higher ranked Alize Cornet. There doesn’t seem to be a clear reason why, as both players have had similar results, but it may be because Parmentier’s game fits the indoor clay better. Completing the quartet is Amandine Hesse in case of injury or dead rubber. Spain is very dependent on their two main stars- Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro. It is made painfully clear when neither attends the tie, like in this case. Lara Arruabarrena also opted out of the tie, so World No. 82 Sara Sorribes Tormo will be the No. 1. No. 2 is the established but declining clay court player Silvia Soler-Espinosa, who will try to summon some of her past greatness for this Fed Cup tie. No. 265 Olga Saez Larra has also made herself available for the tie, and is projected to play doubles alongside the No. 33 in doubles, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.
My Predictions
Mladenovic def. Soler-Espinosa
Parmentier def. Sorribes Tormo
Mladenovic def. Sorribes Tormo
Spain wins 3-0

Russia – Belgium

Anastasia Myskina put together a team on the stronger side, getting Vesnina and Pavlyuchenkova as her singles players, with the possibility of including Daria Kasatkina on Day 2. 18 year-old Anna Blinkova is also along for the ride. Vesnina was the winner at Indian Wells, and Pavlyuchenkova beat Angelique Kerber to win Monterrey, being in great form. However, the tie in Luzhinki is on indoor clay, so Kasatkina who just won Charleston may have been a better choice. The Belgian squad is weakened by the absences of Yanina Wickmayer and Kirsten Flipkens, producing a team of 23 and under players. Elise Mertens and Alison Van Uytvanck are playing the singles, while the former Ukranian Maryna Zanevska and mostly doubles specialist An-Sophie Mestach.
My Predictions
Vesnina def. Van Uytvanck
Mertens def. Pavlyuchenkova
Vesnina def. Mertens
Kasatkina def. Van Uytvanck
Russia wins 3-1

Germany – Ukraine

Germans are hosting Ukraine in Porsche Arena, Stuttgart, the same venue where the tournament will be played next week. World No. 1 Angelique Kerber has come, trying to get some match play before Stuttgart which is something this tie should give her. Julia Goerges has been nominated as the No. 2 over the higher ranked Laura Siegemund, mostly because of the way Goerges’ style condraticts Svitolina. It is however expected that Siegemund would play the No. 2 rubber on Day 2, making Goerges available for doubles. Carina Witthoeft has also been nominated. Elina Svitolina will lead the Ukranian team as the No. 1, Lesia Tsurenko seconding her in singles. Kateryna Bondarenko chose to play Stuttgart qualifying instead, so despite being on-site, she won’t be able to play Fed Cup. Instead Olga Savchuk and Nadiia Kichenok will be the doubles options.
My Predictions
Svitolina def. Goerges
Kerber def. Tsurenko
Svitolina def. Kerber
Siegemund def. Tsurenko
Goerges/Kerber def. Savchuk/Svitolina
Germany wins 3-2

Slovakia – Netherlands

The Slovak team has been strongly weakened by Dominika Cibulkova suffering a wrist injury while training with the team, now having to be replaced by Daniela Hantuchova. This means that Kristina Kucova is the highest ranked player, but the captain Matej Liptak chose Jana Cepelova and Rebecca Sramkova for the singles on the fast indoor clay in Bratislava on Day 1. Cepelova and Kucova are projected as the doubles team, but it is likely that Kucova would be replaced by Hantuchova, a player that possesses far more doubles prowess. The Netherlands have their strongest team in Bratislava, led by World No. 20 Kiki Bertens, who has also had doubts surrounding her start in the tie. Richel Hogenkamp, Cindy Burger and Arantxa Rus are all competing for the No. 2 spot, but it has been given to Hogenkamp at least for the opening rubber.
My Predictions*
Cepelova def. Hogenkamp
Sramkova def. Bertens
Bertens def. Cepelova
Sramkova def. Hogenkamp
Slovakia wins 3-1
*(Let it be known that the author of the article is a Slovak native, which may affect my predictions)

Honorable Mention: Romania – Great Britain

Despite it being a Play-Off tie for the World Group II, Romania versus Great Britain definitely deserves a mention in this Fed Cup preview piece. Not only it features one of the most tennis nations in the World, but also 2 Top 10 players in Simona Halep and Johanna Konta. Romania took a risk and put the tie on outdoor clay in Constanta, Romania, where the temperatures are not expected to rise above 15 degrees Celsius this weekend. Romania put forth their strongest team, with Halep and Begu in the singles, backed up by Monica Niculescu, No. 23 doubles player, and Sorana Cirstea. Great Britain is led by World No. 7 Konta, who will be seconded by Heather Watson, as Naomi Broady chose to play Stuttgart qualifying instead. Laura Robson and Jocelyn Rae are the projected doubles team.
My Predictions
Halep def. Watson
Konta def. Begu
Halep def. Konta
Begu def. Watson
Romania wins 3-1

Fed Cup

Leylah Fernandez wins Billie Jean King Heart Award

The Canadian was recognized by the fans for her part in Canada beating Serbia in the play-off tie last month.

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Leylah Fernandez has been named the winner of the Billie Jean King Heart award voted on by the fans of the game. She played an integral part in Canada beating Serbia 4-0 in the playoff tie last month.

 

18-year-old Fernandez was involved in a poll with Elina Svitolina, Katie Boulter and Magdalena French. The award comes with $3000 which she donated to her favourite charity Table de Concertation en Securite Alimentaire de Villeray in Montreal.

” I was surprised, there were so many great players who were nominated and showed a lot of heart during the competition so I didn’t expect much from my part but I’m happy the fans voted and that I was given this opportunity to show what we are made of so I am excited,” said Fernandez.

ITF president David Haggerty commented on her award saying “Congratulations to Leylah Fernandez for her great performance at the Billie Jean King playoff in April and for being voted the recipient of the Bille Jean King Heart Award. It’s extra special to be voted by the fans and recognized for showing great courage and commitment to your team”.

Heidi El Tabakh the Billie Jean King Cup captain for Canada also reacted to Fernandez winning the award.

” I am so happy and extremely proud of Leylah (Fernandez) for winning the Billie Jean King Heart Award. It was well deserved following a spectacular performance in Serbia which she worked so hard for,” she said.
“Leylah is a fighter on the court, she always represents Canada with pride and is an incredible teammate for her fellow teammates. She is very worthy of this award”.

This is the 12th year the award has been given and it recognizes players who have represented their country with distinction, shown exceptional courage on the court, and demonstrated outstanding commitment to the team during the Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas.

So far the the award winners have donated over $200,000 to charities across the world.

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Davis Cup

Tennis Stars Voice Concerns Over Staging Tokyo Olympics

After being delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, top players such as Naomi Osaka and Kei Nishikori still have reservations.

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The area around the Olympic Rings and Olympic Stadium - (image via olympics.com)

Japan’s top male tennis player Kei Nishikori has questioned how much preparation the IOC and local officials in his home country has prepared for a ‘worst-case’ scenario of hosting the Olympics. 

 

The four-year event has already been postponed by 12 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic and some have called for the sporting extravaganza to be scrapped. Recently governors of nine Japanese prefectures said there should be an option to suspend or even cancel the Olympics altogether if cases in the region can’t be kept under control. Three of those governors are in charge of cities set to stage Olympic events. 

Weighing in on the debate, former US Open finalist Nishikori raises doubts over how organisers plan to hold a safe event given the high number of athletes that will be present, which is an estimated 11,000. Japan has already said that overseas fans are banned and international athletes will not be able to bring relatives with them to minimise the risk.

“I don’t know what they are thinking, and I don’t know how much they are thinking about how they are going to make a bubble, because this is not 100 people like these tournaments,” Nishikori said after his first-round match at the Italian Open on Monday.
“It’s 10,000 people in the village. So I don’t think it’s easy, especially what’s happening right now in Japan. It’s not doing good. Well, not even (just) Japan. You have to think all over the world right now.”

The world No.45 expresses a view similar to the of four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka who said earlier this week that she was ‘not sure’ if the event should go ahead due to the current case numbers.  

“I’m an athlete, and of course my immediate thought is that I want to play in the Olympics,” she said.
“But as a human, I would say we’re in a pandemic, and if people aren’t healthy, and if they’re not feeling safe, then it’s definitely a really big cause for concern.”

In the latest figures published by health officials, Tokyo reported 925 news cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday which is an increase of almost 400 compared to the previous day. Although Monday figures are usually low due to the closure of testing centres over the weekend. Tuesday’s number is higher compared to this time last week (609 cases) and two weeks ago (828 cases).

Besides the COVID-19 concerns, the prospect of having to go to the Games without a member of family could result in the absence of four-time gold medallist Serena Williams. The former world No.1 says she is undecided on playing the event and hasn’t been separated from her three-year-old daughter for more than 24 hours before.

“I haven’t spent 24 hours without her, so that kind of answers the question itself,” said Williams.
“I haven’t really thought much about Tokyo, because it was supposed to be last year and now it’s this year, and then there is this pandemic and there is so much to think about.
“Then there are the Grand Slams. It’s just a lot. So I have really been taking it one day at a time to a fault, and I definitely need to figure out my next moves.”

Besides athlete concerns, Olympic organisers are also facing falling public support. A recent poll conducted by newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun found that nearly 60% of respondents wanted the Games to be cancelled. Furthermore TBS news reported 65% of people surveyed in another poll wanted the event either cancelled or suspended again, with 37% supporting the cancellation and 28% in favour of suspension.

The Olympic tennis event is set to start on July 24th. 

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Davis Cup

Top Tennis Tournaments Among 97 Events UK Sport Hopes To Host Over The Next Decade

A plan for the ‘greatest decade of extraordinary sporting moments’ in the UK has been published and tennis is among the sports officials are interested in.

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London's O2 Arena, venue of the ATP World Tour Finals between 2009-2020 (photo by Alberto Pezzali)

The government agency responsible for investing in Olympic and Paralympic sport within Great Britain has said they could submit an application to host two team tennis events over the next decade.

 

UK Sport has labelled both the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup Finals as an ‘opportunity’ for them to host in their 10-year strategic plan which will last until 2021. Overall the country is looking at the possibility of staging 97 events across 44 sports over the next 10 years. Those behind the plan believe such a move could generate a total of £7 billion for the UK economy. A live feasibility study is already underway for bidding to host the 2030 football World Cup, 2026 European Athletic Championships and more.

“Together we have achieved so much in Olympic and Paralympic sport. Nevertheless, we are very aware there is no room for complacency and that we must build on our success to create the next exciting phase of high-performance sport,” UK Sport chair Dame Katherine Grainger said in a statement.
“One where we work even more collaboratively and inclusively to keep winning and win well, in ways that will inspire more people and have a broader impact on our society.
“Achieving on the world stage will still sit firmly at the heart of what we do. But we should not underestimate the powerful platform that provides us with, and it is our shared responsibility to better harness this for positive social change.”

When it comes to both the Billie Jean King Cup and Davis Cup, UK Sport has categorized them as a mega event. Meaning they are ‘seen as the pinnacle of their sport at World level and which have significant staging costs, attract more than 100,000 live spectators, entail considerable delivery complexity and require extensive public funding and guarantee commitments.’ At present they have been labelled as an ‘opportunity’ by the agency. Meaning that no decision to bid to host them has been made yet but remains a good possibility.

The government made no reference to what venues could be used, especially regarding the tennis events which will require more than one court due to the change of the tournament in recent years. The finals of the team events now last for a week or so and are done initially in a group format before turning into a knock-out stage.

This year’s Davis Cup finals are taking place across three European cities. However, the women’s equivalent remains in doubt after the ITF ended their contract with the Hungarian Tennis Association who were meant to be holding the event. Hungary recently sent a letter saying it was no longer feasible to do so due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UK is best known for its staging of the prestigious Wimbledon Championships, as well as other grass-court events. Furthermore, it also experienced great success in hosting the ATP Finals between 2009-2020 which attracted more than 2.8 million visitors during that period.

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