MOSCOW, RUSSIA: Silvia Soler-Espinosa could not have wished for a harder start to her Fed Cup by BNP Paribas career. The world No. 77 will play her first-ever match in the competition against none other than three-time Grand Slam champion, Maria Sharapova, and the Spanish No. 2 for this weekend knows she’s going to be in for a tough afternoon against her Russian opponent.
“It’s going to be a very tough match as she is an excellent player and she reached the final at the Australian Open. I have a few nerves coming into the match, but I think that is good. I just want to enjoy myself and play a good game,” said the 24-year-old.
Her opponent, Sharapova, comes into the tie brimming with confidence after she managed to get to the final of the Australian Open, before losing to Viktoria Azarenka in straight sets. The Russian already has one eye on trying to qualify for her country’s Olympic team, and the 24-year-old says she’s looking forward to playing for her country again.
“The preparations are all for the days ahead and I am really looking forward to the weekend. I don’t know much about her game, but some of my teammates do, we are just going to go out there and it doesn’t matter whether they are experienced or not, we are just going to try and play our best tennis,” said Sharapova.
The Russian No. 1 didn’t have the happiest of times the last time she played for her country in Fed Cup. On that occasion, Sharapova lost her only match of the tie against France and she is determined to put in a better performance almost a year on, saying: “this is a new year and I am looking to put what happened last year behind me.”
The second match on court sees Svetlana Kuznetsova in action against Carla Suarez Navarro. There may be 41 places separating the pair in the world rankings, but it was the Spaniard who won their last encounter in three sets two years ago. Even despite that loss, the St Petersburg native will start as the strong favourite and she’s just happy to be back home in Russia.
“It’s going to be a tough match; she’s a resourceful opponent and she plays with a lot of speed. Coming back from Australia, the most difficult thing for me is adjusting to the time zones and it’s been hard to sleep. I love being home and it’s the best feeling ever," said Kuznetsova.
Soler-Espinosa will not be the only debutante on the Spanish team. Former Fed Cup champion and six-time Grand Slam winner, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, will be captaining her country for the first time. The 40-year-old may have won almost everything there was to win on the WTA tour in a career that spanned almost two decades. However, the Barcelona native says she’s relishing the challenge of trying to help out a new generation of Spanish tennis players.
“I feel fine and we have nothing to lose as the Russians are the favourites. It’s going to be an interesting experience for me as this is the first time I have been the captain. My players are ready and they are all going to give one hundred percent and of course they have nothing to lose, so they can play their best and we will see what happens," said the Spanish captain.
It’s going to be a tough ask for Sanchez Vicario and the Spanish team to try and beat this star studded Russian line-up. However, as the Spanish captain stated on more than one occasion, her girls have nothing to lose and will be no doubt hoping for a little over confidence from their more illustrious Russian opponents as they look to cause what would be one of the biggest upsets in recent Fed Cup history.
The full draw is listed below.
R1: Sharapova (RUS) v Soler-Espinosa (ESP)
R2: Kuznetsova (RUS) v Suarez Navarro (ESP)
R3: Sharapova (RUS) v Suarez Navarro (ESP)
R4: Kuznetsova (RUS) v Soler-Espinosa (ESP)
R5: Makarova / Petrova (RUS) v Llagostera Vives / Parra-Santonja (ESP)
Sign up to watch this tie live over the weekend on: FedCup.tv
Maria Sharapova (RUS) - 03/02/12
Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) - 03/02/12
Captain Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (ESP) - 03/02/12
Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP) - 03/02/12
Silvia Soler-Espinosa (ESP) - 03/02/12