Just three months after ending a 23-year wait to win the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, the Czech Republic begin the defense of their title with a visit to Stuttgart this weekend to take on Germany.
Leading the Czech team in the World Group first round tie will be World No.2 Petra Kvitova. Last year, Kvitova proved inspirational in the competition, winning all six of her singles rubbers, as Petr Pala's team defeated Slovakia, Belgium and then Russia in final. Joining her against Germany are Iveta Benesova, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova and Lucie Hradecka.
Although Germany are missing their No.1 player, Andrea Petkovic, who is suffering from a stress fracture in her lower back, they still represent a stern test on the indoor hardcourts of the Porsche Arena. Tennis in Germany is experiencing something of a renaissance at present and three of Barbara Rittner's team, Sabine Lisicki, Julia Goerges and Angelique Kerber, are in the Top 30, while Anna-Lena Groenefeld is a former Top 10 doubles player.
Also in first round action over the weekend are Italy. The 2009 and 2010 champions have named a full-strength team, including Francesca Schiavone, and start as heavy favorites against World Group newcomers Ukraine on the indoor clay of Biella. The other two ties pit perennial contenders Russia with Spain in Moscow and Belgium against Serbia in Charleroi.
In World Group II, 17-time Fed Cup champions USA, relegated from the World Group for the first time in their history last year, take their first step on the road back to the big time with a tie against Belarus. Spearheading a strong USA side are Serena and Venus Williams, while Belarus include recently crowned Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka. Also bidding for promotion are Australia, France and Japan, who take on Switzerland, Slovakia and Slovenia respectively.