Slovakia will host Canada next weekend in the Fed Cup World Group II playoffs, with a spot in the second-highest group on the line for both teams. Both teams will be hoping to stay in the intercontinental level of the competition after falling in their respective World Group II first round ties back in February. The tie will be held at Aegon Arena in Bratislava on red clay.
The Canadians were without their number one, Eugenie Bouchard, when they lost on home soil to Belarus in the first round. This time, Bouchard is expected to lead the Canadians. However, there is a question mark attached to the top Canadian, as she was forced to pull out of her second round match in Charleston with an abdominal injury which dates back to last year. However, as of now, Bouchard is still in the Canadian lineup for the tie.
Bouchard will be joined by Francoise Abanda, who has won at least one rubber in both of Canada’s last two World Group/World Group Playoff ties. Canadian veteran Aleksandra Wozniak, the only member of the team not born in the 1990s, will also make the trip. Sharon Fichman will carry the weight in the doubles, although her partner is not yet known.
The hosts will be sending a stronger team than the one that lost to Australia in the first round. Once again, Anna Karolina Schmiedlova will lead the team. She is the highest ranked player in the tie. She will be joined by Slovakian number two Dominika Cibulkova. Her presence will be a big boost to the hosts, as she is coming off a title in Katowice this week.
Joining the two Slovakia powerhouses are Jana Cepelova and Tereza Mihalikova. Cepelova played in Slovakia’s round one tie, losing both her singles and doubles rubbers. This time, she will likely only play doubles. Mihalikova, age 17, will be making her Fed Cup debut and will likely only play in the case of an injury.
The key to this tie is the surface. Not surprisingly, the Slovaks picked a surface that gives them a massive advantage. Clay is unquestionably the weakest surface for the Canadians. While Wozniak and Bouchard have both reached finals on clay in the past, with Bouchard’s lone title coming on the red dirt in Nuremberg, it is not a surface on which they perform well. Abanda has one low-level ITF title on clay.
Compare that to the Slovaks, the majority of Schmiedlova’s titles and finals have come on clay. While Cibulkova does not have a title on clay, she has reached two quarterfinals at the French Open, more than the entire Canadian team combined, and one semifinal. Success aside, they Slovaks at the very least have considerably more experience than the Canadians on clay, which will play a big role in the tie.
In terms of numbers, Bouchard has a 2-0 head-to-head advantage over Cibulkova, with both wins coming in the last eight months. The Canadian also won her lone match with Schmiedlova, although that was back in 2013. Abanda and Schmiedlova have never met, while Cibulkova beat the Canadian number two in their lone meeting at the 2014 Rogers Cup.
The Canadians will need a lights-out performance from Bouchard if they are going to have any chance of winning. She will need to win both her singles rubbers to give the Canadians a fighting chance. Abanda is capable of playing great tennis during Fed Cup, so she cannot be written out. But against two experienced opponents on a weak surface, it will take something special from the Canadian number two. The doubles could be a bit of a toss-up, but the experience and surface give the advantage to the Slovaks.
Prediction: Slovakia 4-1
The fact that Bouchard’s health is a question mark does not bode well for the Canadians. She also has only two clay court match wins in the past 12 months. She’s had a better year in 2016, but Schmiedlova is on the rise and Cibulkova is red hot. Even if Bouchard steals one win, which she might, it is highly unlikely that Abanda or the Canadian doubles team can back her up.