No Serena, no Sharapova in tweaked Fed Cup

No Serena, no Sharapova in tweaked Fed Cup

PARIS - Agence France-Presse
No Serena, no Sharapova in tweaked Fed Cup

Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova returns a shot to Kristina Mladenovic during a Paris WTA Open game. Kvitova is among the top names in the Fed Cup.

The 2013 Fed Cup World Group gets underway on Feb. 9 with the tournament missing marquee names Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova and with a late format tweak aimed at boosting the event’s appeal.

Both Williams and Sharapova featured in the 2012 Fed Cup, partly to meet Olympic Games qualifying criteria, but will not be involved when the United States tackle Italy and Russia welcome Japan this weekend. Williams, who has played just six ties since 1999, has a back injury while Sharapova, whose Fed Cup record stretches to a meagre three appearances since her 2008 debut, was left out of the Russian squad.Their absences have cut the number of players from the top 10 competing in the four World Group One ties to just three - number seven Sara Errani of Italy, eighth-ranked Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic and number nine Samantha Stosur of Australia.

Wary of the growing demands placed on time and physical endurance by the professional tour, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced on Feb. 7 changes concerning dead rubbers in the tournament.Under the new policy, if a tie is decided after the third singles rubber, the fourth singles rubber will not be played and the dead doubles rubber will be played instead. However if the tie is only decided after the fourth singles rubber, the dead doubles rubber will still be played with a match tiebreak (first to 10 points) replacing the third set.

“The enhancement of the dead rubber policy came in response to requests from players, captains and National Associations following its successful introduction in Davis Cup,” said ITF executive vice-president Juan Margets.

In the absence of the Williams sisters, as well as Australian Open semifinalist Sloane Stephens, the 17-time champions U.S. will be led by world number 21 Varvara Lepchencko when it faces Italy in Rimini. Italy, with Errani and world number 16 Roberta Vinci likely to play singles and doubles, beat the US in the 2009 and 2010 finals.