Fed Cup preview: Czech Republic begin bid for 11th title; USA without Serena Williams, Madison Keys
The Czech Republic begin their bid for a fourth successive Fed Cup title this weekend but in eight World Group ties, only two of the world's top 10 players will take part.
Paris: The Czech Republic begin their bid for a fourth successive Fed Cup title this weekend but in eight World Group ties, only two of the world's top 10 players will take part.
Both of those will feature in Ostrava with world number three Karolina Pliskova leading Czech hopes of a sixth Fed Cup in seven years and 11th overall against a Spanish squad led by Garbine Muguruza, the seventh-ranked French Open champion.
But in Hawaii, the 17-time champions United States will be missing world number one Serena Williams as well as the injured Madison Keys, the ninth-ranked player, against Germany who are without Angelique Kerber, the second highest-ranked player in the world.
In World Group II, top 10 players Simona Halep, Dominika Cibulkova and Svetlana Kuznetsova are missing for Romania, Slovakia and Russia respectively.
The Czechs have not lost a Fed Cup tie in almost four years while Spain, five-time winners, haven't made the semi-finals since 2008.
Their chances have not been helped by a stomach injury to national number two Carla Suarez Navarro which means that world 70 Laura Arruabarrena will likely feature as the second singles player.
In stark contrast, the Czechs can boast a four-woman team who are all ranked in the top 50 and the squad does not even include two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova who is recovering after being confronted by a knife-wielding intruder at her home in December.
The United States begin their bid for a first semi-final since 2010 in Maui with a new captain in place, Kathy Rinaldi replacing Mary Joe Fernandez.
Without the Williams sisters as well as the convalescing Keys, the United States will be led by world number 20 Coco Vandeweghe, fresh from making the Australian Open semi-finals.
Germany's top singles hope will be Laura Siegemund, the world 38 who has yet to play a Fed Cup tie, after Kerber opted not to travel to Hawaii ahead of her return to the tour in Qatar next week.
"Obviously we have a tough opponent in Germany but it's different in the Fed Cup because it's a team event," said doubles world number one and Australian Open champion Bethanie Mattek-Sands of the US.
In Geneva, France, runners-up in 2016, tackle Switzerland in a tie which will provide Belinda Bencic with mixed emotions.
When these two nations last played in 2014, Bencic was just 16 and defeated Alize Cornet and Virginie Razzano before France saved themselves with victory in the deciding doubles rubber.
Three years on, the injury-plagued Bencic has slumped to 81 in the world.
The 16th-ranked Timea Bacsinszky will lead Switzerland's singles challenge while 36-year-old Martina Hingis should feature in Sunday's doubles, 22 years after she made her debut in the tournament.
At Minsk, World Group debutants Belarus host Netherlands who are bidding to reach back-to-back semi-finals for the first time since 1969.
Aliaksandra Sanovich, ranked at 128, is Belarus' top singles player.
World Group I
Czech Republic v Spain
United States v Germany
Belarus v Netherlands
Switzerland v France
World Group II
Russia v Taiwan
Romania v Belgium
Ukraine v Australia
Italy v Slovakia
US Open 2021: Great Britain's Emma Raducanu beats Leylah Fernandez in straight sets to win maiden Grand Slam
Raducanu, ranked 150th, was the first British woman in 44 years to win a Slam crown after dispatching 73rd-ranked left-hander Fernandez 6-4, 6-3.
Four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka fell from fifth as Barty remains top and French Open winner Barbora Krejcikova climbed to a career high of fifth.
The rebranded Fed Cup tournament will be held on indoor hard courts at the O2 Arena in Prague on 1-6 November after the Czech capital replaced Budapest as the host city earlier this year.