Among the Fed Cup World Group first round ties this weekend is the United States versus Italy, a clash featuring the team that has dominated the event historically versus the one that has dominated it in recent years.
The US has a record 17 Fed Cup crowns but none since 2000, while Italy has won three of the last five and four of the last eight. Though the US takes a 9-3 record against Italy into this tilt, it has lost the last three - in the final in 2009 and 2010 and in the first round last year. Also favoring the Italians is this tie is in Cleveland on indoor hardcourts, and they are 2-0 in indoor matches in the series.
Madison Keys and Alison Riske will be making their Fed Cup debuts for the Americans, while Christina McHale, in the midst of a four-match win streak at this event, brings experience. Italy will be missing Fed Cup stalwarts Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, so will turn to Karin Knapp and Camila Giorgi, among others.
The winner of the USA-Italy tie will take on the Czech Republic-Spain winner. The Czech Republic is a seven-time Fed Cup champion, while Spain is a five-time winner. This encounter on outdoor clay in Seville will be headlined by World No.17 Carla Suárez Navarro for Spain and World No.6 Petra Kvitova and World No.28 Lucie Safarova for the Czech Republic. If the fate of the tie comes down to Kvitova, the Czechs have to like their chances, as she is 19-7 at this event.
Another tie will feature 2013 runner-up Russia against Australia, which has seven Fed Cup crowns but none since 1974. The series is knotted at 3-3, but Russia has won three straight. Australia has to like its chances to end that skid on outdoor hardcourts in Hobart, as World No.16 Samantha Stosur is on the roster, and three-time Grand Slam doubles runners-up Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua are a potential doubles team. And Russia's squad will not feature anyone in the Top 150.
Finally, Slovakia squares off with Germany on indoor hardcourts in Bratislava, with Germany looking to advance beyond the first round for the first time since 2003. The Slovaks will be led by World No.13 Dominika Cibulkova, fresh off her run to the final at the Australian Open, and World No.30 Daniela Hantuchova. Germany features World No.9 Angelique Kerber and former Top 10 player Andrea Petkovic.
The winners of this weekend's ties will face off in the semifinals the weekend of April 19.