The weekend for the 2016 Fed Cup semis and playoffs is here, and the story is almost more about who isn't playing than who is, which is a shame. I feel like this is a great week in the calendar for players to be able to fit this competition in with the tour transitioning from hard courts to clay and from the US to Europe. Even stalwarts like Radwanska and Kvitova are sitting this one out. But now, to focus on those who will don the national colors this weekend and what we might see. And I think we still could a number of very competitive ties.
World Group Semifinals
Czech Republic at Switzerland: The Swiss are dealt a blow with Bencic being injured, and it is going to be tough against the Czech B-team (although Safarova is winless on the season after returning from injury). Pliskova and Strycova are still good players, albeit without much Fed Cup singles experience, and now it is Bacsinszky and likely Golubic to play singles. It's hard to see a way the Swiss to find their way to the deciding doubles and Hingis, and the Czechs as usual will field a good doubles team (Hradecka/Strycova ?) if there. They'll likely need Bacsinszky to win twice, and while possible, is not likely. CZE 3 SUI 1
France at Netherlands: The Dutch knocked mighty Russia earlier, and at what point to stop doubting them. At least they have a top 100 player now (Bertens - 96), but France is arguably a better team than Russia without Sharapova. Mladenovic, Garcia, and Cornet should be too much for Bertens and Hogenkamp, but we were even saying that about Dutch opponents in zone play. That French can be flaky too (especially this season) so I'm not counting the Dutch out. I'm not so sure they won't push it to the doubles, but Mladenovic will be waiting there. FRA 3 NED 2
World Group I Playoffs
United States at Australia: This will be a very interesting tie as a very out-of-form Keys and an in-form Vandeweghe lead the US into Australia on clay against a capable Stosur and Gavrilova. The US probably needs Keys to pull it together and one, maybe two matches, and if I was captain I would consider McHale or Mattek-Sands on day 1. Every one of these matches is going to be difficult to predict and that goes for doubles too with Dellacqua/Stosur vs Mattek-Sands/whoever. Stosur isn't always at her best in Australia, but this will be on clay and I don't have much confidence in the American team. AUS 3 USA 1
Belarus at Russia: Here's a classic one-player team versus deep team as Azarenka takes on the young Russians Kasatkina, Gasparyan, and Kulichkova anchored by a very much in form veteran Vesnina. Azarenka is probably going to need some help from Govortsova or Sasnovich because Vesnina is going to tough to beat in doubles (and maybe singles too), and she's been playing with Kasatkina most of the year. There could be some high quality matches here given the form of Azarenka, Kasatkina, and Vesnina, but I don't see how Belarus wins a rubber outside of Azarenka's singles. I think it's more likely Azarenka loses a singles match (see hasn't played on clay yet) than Govortsova, Sasnovich, or the doubles team wins one. RUS 3 BLR 2
Germany at Romania: We'll look forward to Kerber/Halep clash on day 2 and both teams have good supporting players as well with Lisicki, Beck, and Goerges for Germany and Niculescu, Begu, and Dulgheru for Romania. It's a big home court advantage for Romania, and they've picked clay, the favorite surface of Halep. Kerber might be banged up after withdrawing from Charleston so I like Romania. Petkovic is not in great form and I doubt the Germans will throw Beck out there. Begu and Niculescu have performed admirably in Fed Cup, with or without Halep. ROU 3 GER 1
Italy at Spain: Yet another solid tie, without Muguruza and Suarez Navarro both playing for Spain and Errani and Vinci present for Italy. Those four could comprise the players in all 5 rubbers, and again it's anyone's guess as to who wins each match. Spain is at home on clay, which is typically a good sign for both Davis and Fed Cup teams but Italy is perhaps equally adept on the surface. None of these players are really in all that great of form but I'm going with Italy simply based on their experience in the competition and the fact that their defensive skills may be able to neutralize Muguruza's power, especially on clay. But really, I've got no idea here. ITA 3 ESP 1
World Group II Playoffs
Taiwan at Poland: This was set to be a fairly straightforward rout until Radwanska pulled out. It still could be, since in Taiwan's first playoff appearance since '07 their singles players are ranked 186 and 355 (no Hsieh). But Poland looks like their having trouble filling their roster as it is now Kania and no. 263 Katerzyna Kawa as their highest ranked players. I still think Poland should pull it out but I'm not very familiar with these players, so who knows? POL 3 TPE 1
Belgium at Serbia: Jankovic recently pulled out so now Serbia is without a top 100 player to take on Wickmayer and an in-form Flipkens. Krunic has been good in Fed Cup in the past but she may be required to beat both Belgians to keep the tie live to the doubles, where anything can happen. I'll give her one win, but not two. BEL 3 SRB 1
Argentina at Ukraine: Rather than play for her country, Svitolina was busy losing in the first round of Bogota. But Ukraine still has Tsurenko and Bondarenko against an Argentine side without anyone ranked in the top 200 (Irigoyen and Podoroska, who were very good in zonal competition). I guess you given the visitors a pat on the back and say congratulations for getting here (where are Ormaechea and Dulko when you need them?). UKR 3 ARG 0
Canada at Slovakia: And yet another team not fielding a top 200 player is Canada, and they'll be going up against two top 40 players, one of which (Cibulkova) is underranked after an injury year last year. But Schmiedlova has been awful this year so Canada has a shot and beating her with Abanda, Fichman, or Wozniak, but then again, the Slovaks could go to Cepelova and probably be ok. At any rate, Cibulkova should be able to prevent to hosts from dropping into zonal play. SVK 3 CAN 1
Asia/Pacific Zonal Group II: Philippines plays Singapore for the one promotion to Group I after Singapore upset seeded Indonesia and last year's Group I relegated team Hong Kong to advance out of their pool.
Europe/Africa Zonal Group II: Still one day of pool play left, but Denmark (without Wozniacki) has clinched one pool with Lithuania and Finland to play for 2nd. The other pool (Bosnia: 2-0, Austria/Liechtenstein: 1-1, Egypt: 0-2) is still up in the air.
Europe/Africa Zonal Group III: 17 countries competed at this level, and the promotion ties are Saturday. Luxembourg somehow emerged from a pool that included Greece (Sakkari) and Tunisia (Jabeur) and will play Moldova, which emerged from a wild final day that nearly saw "tennis powerhouses" Cyprus and Madagascar advance. Norway has clinched another pool, beating Montenegro with Kovinic (8-6 in 3rd set TB in doubles), and they will play Macedonia.
Enjoy the weekend!