HOBART, AUSTRALIA: Russian captain Anastasia Myskina sprang a surprise at the draw for the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie between Russia and Australia, promoting the youngest, lowest-ranked player in her green team to the No. 2 singles spot against the heavily favoured hosts.
Veronika Kudermetova, 16-years-old and ranked world No. 650, has been handed a daunting Fed Cup debut against Aussie spearhead Samantha Stosur, former US Open champion and Australia’s leading Fed Cup singles winner.
Myskina also went against rankings in her No. 1 singles selection, promoting word No. 241 Irina Khromacheva ahead of Victoria Kan, who is ranked 83 places above her. The 18-year-old Khromacheva, world junior champion in 2011, opens the tie against Aussie No. 2, and fellow lefty, Casey Dellacqua.
Khromacheva is the only member of this essentially junior Russian team with Fed Cup experience, thrown into the deep end of the 2013 final against Italy, where she lost to Sara Errani in the second rubber and narrowly fell in a dead doubles rubber.
Myskina, in her debut as Fed Cup captain, standing in for Shamil Tarpishev, has paired the untried Kan and 21-year-old Valeria Solovyeva for the doubles rubber. Solovyeva is the only member of the Russian team with a double-digit ranking, world No. 90 in doubles. Aussie captain Alicia Molik went with her Top 10 doubles line-up of Dellacqua and Ashleigh Barty, finalists in three Grand Slam events in 2013.
Such is the mystery surrounding the Russian team’s credentials and playing styles, that 17-year-old Barty has served as the team scout and strategist, having at least crossed paths with the teenage opponents in junior play, notably Khromacheva, her victim in the 2011 Junior Wimbledon final. Even the ubiquitous YouTube was of no help to Aussie captain Molik.
The draw took place at the stark, spectacular Mona (Museum of Old and New Art), Hobart’s instant icon, on the sparkling Derwent, surrounded by the lush vines of the Moorilla winery and with Mt Wellington providing a postcard backdrop. From harbour side central Hobart, the teams arrived by fast ferry - the Mona Roma - travelling the wide expanse of the Derwent River.
It’s an upriver trip, aptly so for the young Russians, who are all-but up creek and without a paddle at the picturesque Domain Tennis Centre. For a second-straight Fed Cup tie, powerhouse Russia is fielding an underpowered side. The top-ranked Russian in Hobart, Kan, is the No.14 Russian overall.
Several of the top Russians have traded their Fed Cup passes for Sochi passes. Long-serving captain Shamil Tarpishev is attending the Winter Games in his role as an International Olympic Committee member. Russian No. 1 Maria Sharapova is in her childhood hometown doing colour commentary for a US network. Russian No.2 Maria Kirilenko is supporting her fiance Alex Ovechkin, carrying heavy national hopes for a gold medal as captain of Russia’s ice hockey team. Pressure, much?
“Everybody moved to Sochi, nobody want to travel to Australia,” Myskina joked. “But we’re gonna fight and we look forward to the weekend.” Certainly the captain will need to draw on her inspirational value as a living legend of Russian tennis to fire her young charges.
Now 32-years-old and a mother to three sons, the still youthful and glamorous Myskina unleashed the Russian revolution in women’s tennis 10 years ago with her victory at Roland Garros, the first Russian woman to land a Grand Slam title. Also in 2004, she spearheaded Russia’s first Fed Cup victory, winning all three rubbers in the final against France. Her overriding message to her team this weekend: “To fight.”
The winner in Hobart faces Slovakia or Germany in the semifinals. Australia last made the Fed Cup semis in 1993, before the World Group format was instituted.
Russia has not lost a World Group opening round since 2006, in Belgium. It has been a fixture in the World Group since ascending to the top tier in 2000.
Australia and Russia are locked at 3-3 in Fed Cup clashes, though the Aussies’ last win came in 1983, when none of the current team was even born. That 30-year drought looks set to break in Hobart this weekend.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Casey Dellacqua (AUS) v Irina Khromacheva (RUS)
R2: Samantha Stosur (AUS) v Veronika Kudermetova (RUS)
R3: Samantha Stosur (AUS) v Irina Khromacheva (RUS)
R4: Casey Dellacqua (AUS) v Veronika Kudermetova (RUS)
R5: Ashleigh Barty/Casey Dellacqua (AUS) v Victoria Kan/Valeria Solovyeva (RUS)
Captain Alicia Molik (AUS) - 07/02/2014
Captain Anastasia Myskina (RUS) - 07/02/2014
Casey Dellacqua (AUS) - 07/02/2014
Irina Khromacheva (RUS) - 07/02/2014
Sam Stosur (AUS) - 07/02/2014