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By Erik Gudris

Petra Kvitova Fed Cup (April 19th, 2013) -- This weekend's Fed Cup ties taking place all over the globe may come down to home court advantage. From the red clay of Palermo to a "backyard" battle in Florida, here's a look at the key match ups.

World Group Semis:
Czech Republic vs. Italy
Palermo, Italy

Could it be that events in Poland might determine this weekend's semifinal between defending champions Czech Republic versus former champion Italy? It's possible considering how Italy's Roberta Vinci stunned Czech No. 1 Petra Kvitova in the Katowice finals last weekend.

With the tie taking place on the red clay of Palermo, Kvitova and Vinci are scheduled to meet once again in the second singles rubber. The lead off match will be between Sara Errani against Lucie Safarova. Once again, the key player may not be Wimbledon champion Kvitova but instead Safarova who will be hoping to get her team off to a good start.

But with the surface favoring the Italians, this one could go down to the wire and be decided by the doubles. That would appear to tip things towards Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka over the scheduled veteran pair of Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone. But you can probably bet that Errani and Vinci, the world's best team at the moment, will be asked to suit up if it comes down to it.

With the head to head tied at 4-all, the Italians are certainly capable of an upset here. That's why the Czechs will have to play at their very best if they want to make a return trip to the finals.

Pick: Czechs 3-2

World Group Semis:
Russia vs. Slovakia
Moscow, Russia

Playing at home and leading the head to head 2-0, this would appear to be an clear cut win for the Russian team. But not so fast as they are taking on the upstart Slovaks led by the always dangerous Dominika Cibulkova and the veteran Daniela Hantuchova who loves playing for Fed Cup more than ever now.

Russia is lacking its usual superstars, but that doesn't mean that Maria Kirilenko and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova can't get the job done here. The opening singles rubber between Cibulkova and Pavlyuchenkova could be the key as "Pavs" appears to have gotten out of her recent slump by taking the title again in Monterrey a few weeks ago.

Expect close matches in this one but the Russians should prevail.

Pick: Russia 3-2

World Group Playoffs:
Sweden vs. U.S.A.
Delray Beach, Florida

There's having home court advantage and then there's playing almost in your backyard. Serena Williams and Venus Williams for only the second time since 2007 are on the U.S. team together, due in some part to having this tie take place close to their Florida home. The strong American squad is rounded out by Sloane Stephens and Varvara Lepchenko.

Though the U.S. are heavy favorites in this one and lead the overall head to head 3-1, U.S. Captain Mary Joe Fernandez did surprise some by deciding to put Stephens in the No. 2 singles spot. Stephens, who has been in a dismal slump since reaching the semis of Melbourne, will need to come through against Sofia Arvidsson in the opening singles rubber. Both women are tied 1-1 in their head to heads and there's no guarantee Stephens will pull out the win.

Serena is expected to roll over Johanna Larsson in the second singles rubber. If the U.S. goes up a quick 2-0 on the first day, this could turn into a rout. If tied at 1-all, the pressure will all be on Stephens to help secure her team's berth back into the main group

Pick: U.S. 4-1

World Group Playoffs:

Germany vs. Serbia
Stuttgart, Germany

Led by Angelique Kerber, Germany will hope its strong team is enough to get past the Serbs who really need Ana Ivanovic to win both her singles to have a chance.

Pick: Germany 3-2

Australia vs. Switzerland
Sesglio, Switzerland

If Sam Stosur and her calf are feeling better, she should be able to win both her singles rubbers. But watch out for Swiss Stefanie Voegele who reached the semis of Charleston a few weeks ago.

Pick: Switzerland 3-2

Japan vs. Spain
Barcelona, Spain

Red clay plus a talented Spanish team led by Carla Suarez Navarro should secure a victory for them over a tough Japanese team.

Pick: Spain 4-1

(Photo Credit: Fed Cup)


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