On paper, Varvara Lepchenko's withdrawal from this weekend's Fed Cup World Group USA vs. France Play-Offs looks like a minor thing; after all, she isn't scheduled to play the singles rubbers. But let's examine reality: The steady, non-chokey Lepchenko is whom you put in when your "A list" players don't perform well under pressure (or just flat-out don't perform well). Lepchenko is injured, and has been replaced on the USA team by Lauren Davis. That's not a bad thing, but having Lepchenko (or the also-injured Bethanie Mattek-Sands) would be a better thing.
The opening rubber will feature Sloane Stephens against Bogota champion Caroline Garcia, and that will be followed by Madison Keys vs. Katowice champion Alize Cornet. The USA is 11-1 against France in Fed Cup play. Again, it looks good on paper.
But on to more important events. Italy will meet the Czech Republic in the semfinals, and Sara Errani and Lucie Safarova will begin the fight, followed by a rubber featuring Camila Giorgi and Petra Kvitova. The two countries are the huge Fed Cup stars of recent time--one of them has won the championship every year in the last five year--but one of them has to go this weekend. They're playing on an indoor surface in Ostrava, and that favors Kvitova in a big way. After the reverse singles are played--should the tie go to a deciding doubles rubber--the Italian doubles team of Karin Knapp and Roberta Vinci could be replaced by Errani and Vinci.
The other semifinal features Australia against Germany. The two countries will play on a hard court in Brisbane, and the Australians will have all they can handle in Charleston champion Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber.
In other World Group Play-Offs, Russia plays Argentina, Canada plays the Slovak Republic and Spain plays Poland. Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina have, for some reason, re-joined Russia's Fed Cup team, which was pretty much dismantled recently because of players' anger toward the Russian Tennis Federation.
Of particular interest (at least, to me) in the World Group II Play-Offs is the Romania vs. Serbia tie.
Here's a bit of Italian attitude, as Errani and Vinci prepare for what is apparently being called The Ding-Dong.