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By Chris Oddo

Czech Fed Cup Team (February 7, 2013) -- Three teams have combined to monopolize Fed Cup in the last nine seasons, as Russia (4 titles), Italy (3 titles), and the Czech Republic (2 titles) have all demonstrated their supreme depth of talent by leaving the rest of the Fed Cup nations on the outside looking in.

Successful title defenses have become the norm in the competition, as four of the last nine Fed Cup finals have ended with a winner successfully defending a title from the previous year. Russia completed back-to-back runs in 2005 and 2008, while Italy completed theirs in 2010 and the Czech Republic defended the title in 2012.

But no nation has won Fed Cup three consecutive times since Spain in 1995. That is the challenge that a two-time defending champion Czech team will face in 2013, on the 50th anniversary of Fed Cup.

Here's a breakdown of all four World Group quarterfinal ties (see World Group Two Tie Info Below):

Czech Republic vs. Australia, Ostrava, Czech Republic, Hard Court

World No. 8 Petra Kvitova's 25-match indoor streak was snapped by Agnieszka Radwanska in Istanbul last October, but Kvitova is still the most dangerous player in this tie with all due respect to Sam Stosur. But Kvitova's recent form is a far cry from the serve and destroy brand of tennis she was playing in late 2011 and part of 2012. Still, even if Kvitova is off her game, Lucie Safarova should be able to come to her assistance on the singles court to help the Czech advance to the semis.

But should the Aussies battle their way to a deciding fifth rubber (a Stosur sweep might be the only way for this to be possible, but stranger things have happened) an enticing match-up would ensue, as both teams tout formidable doubles teams. Would Ashleigh Barty, 16-year-old sensation who played the Australian Open finals, get the nod? Or would it be Stosur, who owns a 6-0 Fed Cup doubles record? On the other side of the net, the Czech team will go with the tried-and-true combo of Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka, three-time Grand Slam doubles finalists, to counter.

Key Stat: Kvitova has won 11 of her last 12 Fed Cup singles matches. Stosur has won 16 of 18, doubles and singles combined.

Pick: Czech Republic 3, Australia 2

Italy vs. USA, Rimini, Italy, Indoor Clay


The Italians defeated the Americans in the 2009 and 2010 Fed Cup finals, and they should oust team U.S.A. again this year if rankings and experience are any indication. Without Serena Williams, Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens, the U.S.A. will have to rely on inspired performances from Varvara Lepchenko and Jamie Hampton. On clay, World No. 7 Sara Errani's best surface, the odds that Lepchenko or Hampton will pull the upset are decidedly smaller. Even if the Americans can miraculously force a decisive fifth rubber, they'll have to face the No. 1 doubles tandem in the world -- Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci -- when they get there.

Key Stat: Vinci has a 17-0 career record in Fed Cup doubles.

Pick: Italy 4, U.S.A. 1

Russia vs. Japan, Moscow, Indoor Hard Court


With Maria Kirilenko and Ekaterina Makarova likely carrying the singles burden for Shamil Tarpischev's Russian squad this season, the Japanese will have their hands full on the road in Moscow. Kimiko Date-Krumm, who owns a career Fed Cup record of 16-6, and Ayumi Morita will have to overachieve to compete with the deeper, more accomplished Russian team.

But don't count the Japanese out. Date-Krumm has started the year strongly, and Morita is fresh off a career-best third-round appearance at the Australian Open this year.

Key Stat: Morita has won 12 consecutive Fed Cup rubbers.

Pick: Russia 4, Japan 1

Serbia vs. Slovak Republic, Nis, Serbia, Indoor Hard Court


With Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, key cogs in the Serbian squad that reached its first Fed Cup final in 2012, out due to injuries, the Slovaks will play the role of heavy favorites on the road in this first-round tie.

With Dominika Cibulkova and Daniela Hantuchova ready to go, the Serbs will have to hope that Bojana Jovanovski is ready to break out in a big way. The 21-year-old is one tick off her career-high ranking of 38, but she hasn't shown signs that she's ready to carry a team against a strong side like Slovakia yet in her career.

Key Stat: Hantuchova leads all Slovak players with 27 career wins in Fed Cup singles matches.

Pick: Slovakia 4, Serbia 1

World Group 2 Matches:

France vs. Germany, Limoges, France, Indoor Red Clay


After the fanfare surrounding Marion Bartoli’s reconciliation with the French Fed Cup team, she may not attend her first Fed Cup tie in nine years, after all. L’equipe is reporting that Bartoli is suffering from the flu, which means that France's chances against a deep German team will likely rest in the hands of Alize Cornet and Kristina Mladenovic this weekend. If that’s the case, the edge goes to the Germans, who'll feature Julia Georges and Sabine Lisicki, but this could be a very close tie, with or without Bartoli.

Belgium vs. Switzerland, Bern, Switzerland, Indoor Clay

Yanina Wickmayer and a rejuvenated Kirsten Flipkens should get the Belgian squad over the hill against the Swiss in the first meeting of the two countries since 1989.

Argentina vs. Sweden, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Outdoor Red Clay

With Sofia Arvidsson and Johanna Larsson being the only two players inside the top 100 in this tie, the Swedes should have the edge against team Argentina.

Ukraine vs. Spain, Alicante, Spain, Outdoor Red Clay

Carla Suarez Navarro and Anabel Medina Garrigues’ collective absence will make Conchita Martinez's first tie as Fed Cup Captain that much tougher. But at home on the red clay, Spain is still a slight favorite against a Lesia Tsurenko-led Ukraine team.


(Photo Credit: AP)

 

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