The Fed Cup adopts a new format this year, with 12 teams set to battle for the title at the inaugural Fed Cup Finals in Budapest.
Fed Cup predictions
The revamped Finals were originally scheduled for Laszlo Papp Sport Arena in Budapest from 14-19 April, but following the coronavirus outbreak, the one-week event was shifted to a later date to be confirmed by the International Tennis Federation. The organizers remain very hopeful of staging the tournament this year.
The new format features 12 teams divided into three groups of four, with the group winner and the best second-placed team progressing into the semi-finals. Unlike the previous World Group which comprised five rubbers per tie, each tie in the 2020 Finals will have just three rubbers- two singles and one doubles match.
The 2020 tournament includes some of the very best players and teams in the world, with reigning champions, France, last year’s beaten finalists, Australia, and the always formidable Russian and Czech teams among the nations participating in the inaugural Finals.
Czech Republic to continue recent dominance?
Modern Fed Cup powerhouses, Czech Republic are again right up there among the favourites, as they attempt to claim their seventh title in the last 10 years. The Czechs made at least the semi-finals in ten straight tournaments between 2009 and 2018, but that remarkable run was broken last season, when they suffered a surprise quarter final defeat to Romania in Ostrava.
With only the two finalists from last year’s World Group (France and Australia) and the home nation (Hungary) gaining direct entry into the 2020 Finals, the Czechs would have had to go through the qualifiers to earn a spot at the 12-team event, but they were awarded a wildcard into the tournament in recognition of their great consistency in the last decade.
Boasting three players inside the current top 20, and six in the top-50, the Czechs have got a typically talented group of players, with great strength in depth. Assuming every one is fit and available, they will be spearheaded by two-time Wimbledon champion, Petra Kvitova and former world No. 1, Karolina Pliskova, both of whom are vastly experienced in the Fed Cup, while younger players like Marketa Vondrousova, a French Open finalist from last season and Karolina Muchova, who made the quarter finals at Wimbledon are more than capable back-ups.
They will need all of the talents at their disposal to navigate a tough Group A, which comprises the two finalists from last years, France and Australia, as well as the United States.
Formidable Americans to regain the Fed Cup title?
Not many countries rival the Czech Republic for depth, but the Americans not only do a terrific job at that, but are arguably a better unit than the Czech Republic. In truth, any team that can all on Serena Williams will most likely be better than most.
But this American team is not just about Serena Williams.
With two players inside the top-ten, four in the top 20 and six inside the top 50, the USA have a plethora of options to choose from as they attempt to regain the title they last won in 2017. Their top-50 stars include Grand Slam champions, Sofia Kenin, Sloane Stephens, and of course, Serena, while former US Open finalist, Madison Keys, the super consistent Alison Riske and last year’s French Open semi-finalist, Amanda Anisomova make up America’s current top six. If you look a little bit further down, you will find the rising teen, Coco Gauff at No. 52 in the world, and at the other end of the age spectrum, Venus Williams, at No. 67.
The fact that the Fed Cup Finals will be played on a clay court isn’t quite in the USA’s favour, especially in a group as difficult as the one they’ve got, but it is not beyond this very talented squad to find their feet on clay and go all the way.
France to successfully defend their title?
Inspired by the reunion of former Grand Slam doubles champions, Carolina Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic, France pulled off a thrilling race to the Fed Cup title last season, securing 3-2 wins over Romania and Australia in the semi-finals and finals respectively, with Garcia and Mladenovic winning the deciding doubles rubbers in each of those ties.
Mladenovic and Garcia had fallen out in 2017 after the latter decided to focus on her singles career, but they mended fences in 2019 and joined forces to propel France to their third Fed Cup title. The champions will need those two to be on terms and firing if they are to pull off a successful title defence.
Neither Mladenovic nor Garcia has been setting the WTA Tour alight in recent times, but they remain France’s top two players, ranked 42nd and 46th respectively. Their next highest ranked player is the world No. 53, Fiona Ferro, but they can always call on the experienced Alize Cornet and Pauline Parmentier.
Who are the other contenders?
With four players in the current top-40, Russia have a typically strong squad, and are definitely in with a good shot at securing their fifth Fed Cup title, and first since 2008. The Russians dominated the competition in the mid to late 2000s, winning four titles in a five-year period between 2004 and 2008, but they haven’t been able to get over the line since then, managing runner-up finishes in 2011, 2013 and 2015.
Also, look out for 2017 finalists, Belarus, who have got Aryna Sabalenka and Aliaksandr Sasnovich, two players who often produce their best at the Fed Cup stage.
Led by world No. 1, Ashleigh Barty, last year’s beaten finalists, Australia, will attempt to make up for the heartbreak from last season, when they were edged to the title by France in Brisbane. Other top players expected to lead their countries include three-time major winner, Angelique Kerber (Germany), Garbine Muguruza (Spain), and Belinda Bencic with Switzerland.