Sharapova looks to fire Russia in chilly Moscow
Maria Sharapova will be looking to fire Russia in their Fed Cup World Group opener against Spain this weekend as she returns to freezing Moscow after her run in the sun to the Australian Open final.sports Updated: Feb 03, 2012 08:10 IST
Maria Sharapova will be looking to fire Russia in their Fed Cup World Group opener against Spain this weekend as she returns to freezing Moscow after her run in the sun to the Australian Open final.
Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev was spoilt for choice for the tie on the indoor hard surface of Moscow's Olympic Stadium and has opted for world number three Sharapova for singles duty alongside 19th-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Sharapova had a good run to the final of the first Grand Slam of the season in Melbourne before being thrashed in straight sets by Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.
"I just came to Moscow from Australia and I'm still shocked by the temperature drop (from +30 degrees Celsius to -20C). But I still have time to get accustomed to the weather conditions here," the Florida-based player said.
"I believe this time I will be able to play better than I did in my previous Fed Cup appearance against France last year. I'll try to give my best against Spain on front of our home fans in a very important tournament."
Beaten 3-2 by the Czech Republic in last year's final at the same Olympic Stadium, the Russian team will be looking for a morale-boosting opener with a team that also includes Nadia Petrova, ranked 33, and 42nd-ranked Ekaterina Makarova.
Spain legend Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario takes charge for the first time as captain of the five-time winners in a team that will be without Anabel Medina Garrigues.
The 39th-ranked Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez is Spain's top-ranked player, in a team that also includes Carla Suarez Navarro, Arantxa Parra-Santonja and Nuria Llagostera Vives.
"It's my debut as the Spanish team's skipper and I'm really proud I'm in charge of this great team," said Sanchez-Vicario, who holds the record for the most number of Fed Cup wins.
"Russia look clear favourites but we are set to fight to the very end. We are aiming for a place in the final this year."
Russia hold a 5-1 lead in previous meetings, with Spain's only success in 1989.
But Sanchez-Vicario insisted: "Statistics doesn't mean anything. We're going to fight for every single point in this showdown.
"We feel comfortable on the hard surface in the Olympic indoor stadium here. Of course, the red clay is our preferred surface but we have nothing to complain about."
Champions the Czech Republic open against Germany on an indoor hard service at Stuttgart, as Belgium host Serbia on the same surface at Charleroi without Kim Clijsters, while three-time winners Italy host Ukraine on indoor clay at Biella.
The Czechs won their most recent meeting in 2010 and lead the Germans 5-1, with four of the six ties when the two nations played under the former flags of West Germany and Czechoslovakia.
Serbia, meanwhile, will be without Ana Ivanovic, with Jelena Jankovic leading their bid to win their first ever World Group tie, against two-time champions Belgium.
In northern Italy, former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta lead the hosts' bid to preserve their unbeaten record against the Ukraine.
Russia v Spain
Belgium v Serbia
Ukraine v Italy
Germany v Czech Republic