Eugenie Bouchard will spearhead Canada’s tilt to reach the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group for the first time since 1994 when it takes on Slovak Republic in the World Group play-offs in Quebec City on 19-20 April.
Already enjoying a ground breaking season at Tour-level having reached semifinals at the Australian Open and Charleston this year, the 20-year-old Montreal native has the chance to help her nation end a lengthy absence from the competition’s top tier.
While Bouchard, at No. 19, is the highest ranked player in the tie, Slovak Republic will prove a stern test with its top three nominated players – No. 37 Magdalena Rybarikova, No. 51 Jana Cepelova and No. 65 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova – ranked higher than Canadian No. 2 and world No. 89 Sharon Fichman.
Poland is also bidding to return to the top tier of the competition for the first time since 1994, with world No. 3 Angieszka Radwanska leading its challenge against Spain in Barcelona.
Poland - and Radwanska - will have high hopes of victory, even on away soil, given their considerable ranking advantage on Spain’s No. 1 for the tie, world No. 68 Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor.
Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina return to the fray for Russia as it hosts Argentina in Sochi. The pair, ranked No. 21 and No. 33 respectively, missed out on the chance to represent their country in last year’s Fed Cup final despite playing a pivotal role in sending Russia to the World Group title match for a tenth time.
They’ll come up against an Argentina side looking to secure a place in the World Group for the first time since 2009 on clay at the Adler Arena - a bold choice of surface from the host nation given that Argentina has won seven of its last eight ties on the surface and the nation’s No. 1, Paula Ormaechea, has won 11 of her last 12 singles rubbers.
World No. 18 Sloane Stephens carries USA’s hopes of retaining its World Group status against France in St Louis, while No. 22 Alize Cornet will hope to play her part in guiding Amelie Mauresmo’s team back into the World Group after a three-year absence.
In the World Group II play-offs, also taking place on 19-20 April, Romania and Serbia could be set for a ferocious battle in a bid to avoid relegation to zonal competition with world No. 5 Simona Halep and No. 12 Ana Ivanovic leading their nations in Bucharest.
After winning two singles rubbers in an impressive live rubber debut against France in World Group II action earlier this year, 17-year-old Belinda Bencic leads Switzerland’s fight to remain in World Group II for 2015 against Brazil in Catanduva.
Twenty-year-old Luksika Kumkhum, another promising youngster, headlines Thailand’s first appearance in World Group II against Sweden in Lidkoping, while world No. 43 Kurumi Nara is the highest ranked player in the Netherlands v Japan tie as she bids to deny the hosts a place in World Group II for the first time since 1999 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
World Group play-offs
Russia v Argentina
Venue: Adler Arena, Sochi, Russia (clay - indoors)
Captain: Anastasia Myskina
Captain: Maria-Jose Gaidano
Canada v Slovak Republic
Venue: PEPS, Laval University, Quebec City, Canada (hard - indoors)
Anna Karolina Schmiedlova
Captain: Matej Liptak
Captain: Sylvain Bruneau
USA v France
Venue: Chaifetz Arena, St. Louis, MO, USA (hard - indoors)
Captain: Mary Joe Fernandez
Captain: Amelie Mauresmo
Spain v Poland
Venue: Olympic Stadium, Barcelona, Spain (clay - outdoors)
Maria-Theresa Torro Flor
Estrella Cabeza Candela
Silvia Soler Espinosa
Anabel Medina Garrigues
Captain: Conchita Martinez
Captain: Tomasz Wiktorowski
World Group II play-offs
Romania v Serbia
Venue: Arenele BNR, Bucharest, Romania (clay - outdoors)
Captain: Alina Cercel-Tecsor
Captain: Dejan Vranes
Netherlands v Japan
Venue: Maaspoort Sports & Events, 's-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands (clay - indoors)
Captain: Yuka Kaneko
Captain: Paul Haarhuis
Sweden v Thailand
Venue: Sparbanken Lidkoping Arena, Lidkoping, Sweden (hard - indoors)
Captain: Lars-Anders Wahlgren
Captain: Priyakarn Salivorraroj
Brazil v Switzerland
Clube de Tenis Catanduva, Catanduva, Brazil (clay - outdoors)
Paula Cristina Goncalves
Captain: Carla Tiene
Captain: Heinz Guenthardt