Rafael Nadal. Back on clay.

While the guys were representing their countries for Davis Cup last week, the ladies played in Paris and Thailand. In Paris, 7th ranked Sara Errani was the favorite, but was taken-down in the final by 45th ranked Mona Barthel of Germany. That’s Mona’s second title, and first since Hobart in January of 2012. Congrats to Maria Kirilenko on winning her first title since 2008, her 6th overall, defeating Germany’s Sabine Lisicki in the Pattaya Open Final.

Italy wins the 2010 Fed Cup over the US in San Diego (PHOTO: Paul Zimmer)

This week, it’s the ladies’ turn to play for their countries with Fed Cup’s First Round. In the World Group, two-time defending champion Czech Republic hosts Australia, Russia hosts Japan, Slovak Republic plays in Serbia, and Team USA faces Italy in Rimini.

This is a tough First Round draw for the Americans, especially with Sloane Stephens backing out of the Tie with a strained abdominal muscle. Melanie Oudin steps-in alongside Liezel Huber, Varvara Lepchenko and Jamie Hampton – they’ll face, essentially, Sara Errani (7th in singles) and Roberta Vinci (16th in singles) who also happen to be the #1 doubles team. Italy won the Fed Cup Final over the U.S. in both 2009 and 2010, first in Reggio Calabria, then in San Diego.

Next week, the ladies head back to Doha for the Qatar Open…and Venus Williams just pulled out of the tournament with a lower back injury (something we all endure with just the flight over there). Andrea Hlavackova will replace Venus in the draw. Serena is still scheduled to play, as is Australian Open champ Victoria Azarenka.

Juan Monaco and Rafael Nadal in Vina del Mar (PHOTO: @picomonaco)

The guys are playing in France, Croatia and Chile this week – with all eyes on Rafael Nadal’s return to the game on clay in Vina del Mar, Chile. He’s been rehabbing the knee since his second round loss to Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon last year. Tuesday, he won his first match back playing doubles with Juan Monaco (6-3, 6-2 over Frantisek Cermak and Lukas Dlouhy). Today, Rafa plays Argentina’s Federico Del Bonis, ranked 128th on the ATP World Tour. Tennis Channel will cover the match live starting at 4:00pm EST.

Next week, Rafa stays on clay at the Brazil Open in Sao Paolo, then heads to Acapulco for the Mexico Open.