Maria Sharapova hopes her first Fed Cup outing in three years will help erase the misery of her latest Grand Slam blow-out.
The former world No. 1 who has struggled to rediscover her best form since a 2008 shoulder injury, suffered a tame fourth round defeat at the Australian Open.
Her straight sets defeat to Germany’s Andrea Petkovic in the heat of Melbourne has now given way to the chilly streets of Moscow where Russia open their Fed Cup World Group campaign against France today.
“Cold, cold, cold,” Sharapova wrote on her Facebook page. “Just spent the last week in Munich training and now I am off to Moscow for Fed Cup. I am looking forward to getting on the court and competing, did not like that feeling I had walking off the court last time I played.”
Sharapova, who will share singles duties with Svetlana Kuznetsova, is making her first Fed Cup appearance since 2008.
France have been hit by the absence of their top two, Marion Bartoli and Aravane Rezai, leaving Alize Cornet as the team’s leading player.
Australia, with a challenge spearheaded by world No. 5 Samantha Stosur, aim to celebrate their return to the World Group after a six-year absence, by beating champions Italy.
But Stosur and teammates Jarmila Groth, Anastasia Rodionova and Rennae Stubbs, will have their work cut out against an Italian team who have won the title three times in the last five years.
Italy, with French Open champion Francesca Schiavone linking up again in singles with the world No. 16 Flavia Pennetta, have won seven of their last eight away ties.
That record included last year’s final against the USA in San Diego.
“I have always enjoyed the Fed Cup and playing at home is always extra special,” said Stosur, ahead of the two-day tie in Hobart.
Australian Open champion Kim Clijsters leads Belgium against the US in Antwerp in a tie stripped of other Grand Slam talent.
Compatriot Justine Henin has retired for a second time while Serena and Venus Williams, both injured, do not figure in the US squad.
But the US have reached the Fed Cup final for the last two years, losing on both occasions to Italy, without the services of either Williams sister.
American captain Mary Joe Fernandez puts the success of her squad down to team spirit.
“Everybody can pretty much do it all,” Fernandez said. “This was a very young team a couple of years ago and they have come a long way.”
Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Melanie Oudin are likely to be the singles choices while Clijsters will share duties with Yanina Wickmayer.
The weekend’s other World Group I tie sees Slovakia face Czech Republic in Bratislava.
Meanwhile, Japan beat Taiwan 3-0 in their Fed Cup Asia/Oceania Group I round-robin match yesterday in Nonthaburi, Thailand.
Taiwan finished bottom of Group A after losing to South Korea on Wednesday and Kazakhstan on Thursday.
Kazakhstan finished second in the group after topping South Korea 2-1 yesterday.
In the playoff for a slot in World Group II, the unbeaten Japanese will meet Uzbekistan, who were unbeaten in Pool B.
Without an injured Li Na, top-seeded China lost to 0-3 to Uzbekistan yesterday. Li, the Australian Open runner-up, retired with a leg cramp on Thursday and wasn’t available yesterday. Uzbekistan’s top player, Akgul Amanmuradova, was also sidelined with an arm injury, but Sabina Sharipova beat Tang Haochen 6-3, 6-2, then Nigina Abduraimova overcame Lu Jing-jing 4-6, 6-1, 6-1.