Fed Cup 2016: World Group 1 Playoffs preview

Who will compete to be Fed Cup champions in 2017, and who will be left fighting for promotion to the top? This weekend's playoffs will decide.

Fed Cup 2016: World Group 1 Playoffs preview
The Fed Cup (photo from fedcup.com)

This weekend sees the playoffs for the Fed Cup World Group One - the ties that decide who'll compete for the top prize in 2017, and who'll be left in World Group Two fighting to make it to the competition's highest tier. Here's a look at each of the ties.

Russia - Belarus

Last year's runners-up in a close final agaisnt the Czech Republic, the Russians find themselves having to play a relegation playoff this time round after a shock loss to the Netherlands earlier this year. Belarus look to be fighting an uphill battle in this one - aside from their star player, Victoria Azarenka, they don't seem to have anyone who'll cause the Russian team too many sleepless nights.

Even without Maria Sharapova - who awaits her punishment after a positive drugs test - Russia clearly have the stronger team overall, featuring two top 50 players and one of the world's leading doubles players in Elena Vesnina. Expect Azarenka to win both her ties, but the Russians to win the other three

Spain - Italy

A mouthwatering tie, this, featuring a number of big names. The Spanish, led by Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro, would seem to be favourites, although that's not to say they won't have a tough job against an Italian team featuring Sara Errani, Roberta Vinci, and former Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone.

Home advantage and greater firepower from their leading players should see Spain through, although if it comes down to the doubles, the unknown Sara Sorribes Tormo could be a weak link.

Spain are led by world number four Garbine Muguruza (photo from livetennis.com)

Romania - Germany

Another clash of the titans here, both teams finding themselves having to fight to maintain their elite status after losing tough opening round ties, to defending champions Czech Republic and Switzerland respectively.

Both teams are led by an elite player - Simona Halep for Romania and Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber for Germany - who's match should provide a highlight to the weekend. It's another tough one to call, with Germany looking ever so slightly stronger, but Romania having home advantage.

Expect this one to go right to the wire.

Australia - USA

Two Grand Slam nations go head-to-head in the last of the four playoffs, and the USA look to be the clear favourites. The Americans have a young team - only one of their number has turned 25 - and just look to be stronger all round than their Australian opponents.

With questions over Sam Stosur's ability to play in front of a home crowd, the young American trio of Madison Keys, Coco Vandeweghe and Christina McHale will be confident of their ability to win this tie and return their team to the World Group One after two years in the second tier.

Both teams feature an elite doubles player - Casey Dellacqua and Bethanie Mattek-Sands, but this tie is unlikely to be live by the doubles rubber.