Fed Cup hit by no-showsComment on this story
Paris – Defending champions Italy will field a weakened side against the United States in Cleveland in the first round of the 2014 Fed Cup this weekend.
Deprived of top singles players Sara Errani and Flavia Pennetta, the Italians, Fed Cup winners three times in the last five years, will instead look to 40th world ranked Karin Knapp and 84th ranked Camilia Giorgi.
The Americans too, however, are without their top players in world number one Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens, with youngsters Madison Keys, Alison Riske, Christina McHale and Lauren Davis being selected.
The dearth of top players in Cleveland is symptomatic of the problems facing the Fed Cup, held in close proximity to the Australian Open, with only one player ranked in the world top 10 - Germany's Angelique Kerber - in action for her country.
Opening the way timewise will be the tie between Australia and Russia in Hobart, Tasmania, but again the Russians, losing finalists last year, have been shorn of their big names.
Maria Sharapova, currently in Sochi for the Winter Olympics, has opted out and instead the Russians, who last won the Fed Cup in 2008, have gone with four almost unknown players, the highest ranked of whom is 18-year-old Victoria Kan, the world number 158.
The Australians, at least are able to call on top player Samantha Stosur, backed by Casey Dellacqua and Ashleigh Barty.
“We haven't had a home tie for a while so it's nice to be able to play in Australia,” said Dellacqua. “We have got some experience of playing down in Hobart so looking forward to that tie.
“I really like the pace (of the court) there. Hobart is a great city. It's really nice and the people are lovely so i think it's a great spot for us to play Russia.
The strongest team lineup looks to be for Slovakia who have Australian Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova and the veteran Daniela Hantuchova in harness for the tie against Germany in Bratislava.
The Slovakians will be out to go at least one better than last year when they held a 2-0 lead over Russia in the semi-finals before losing 3-2.
World number nine Kerber heads the German challenge and she has strong backing from Andrea Petkovic and Julia Goerges as they target a first Fed Cup title win since 1992.
“I think we are a very good team right now, we have a lot of good German players and I'm really looking forward to play Fed Cup and also with this good team,” Kerber said.
The final tie in Seville sees Spain go up against a Czech Republic side who will be with the injured world number six Petra Kvitova.
Instead Lucie Safarova and Klara Zakopalova will likely play singles with Spain headed up by Clara Suarez Navarro and Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor.
“For sure it's going to be a tough tie but I think that our team is very strong. As we have shown in the past we like to play Fed Cup and we are a good team so I think we have a good chance,” Safarova said
Fed Cup first round ties to be be played Saturday and Sunday:
United States v Italy in Cleveland
Spain v Czech Republic in Seville
Slovakia v Germany in Bratislava
Australia v Russia in Hobart - Sapa-AFP