With just a fortnight to go until the new Fed Cup by BNP Paribas season gets under way, Australian captain David Taylor has named his side to host two-time defending champions Italy in the World Group first round (5-6 Febraury) in Hobart.
The four-player team is Samantha Stosur, Jarmila Groth, Anastasia Rodionova and doubles specialist Rennae Stubbs, meaning there is no place for Alicia Molik, Jelena Dokic or Sophie Ferguson.
Stosur, the world No. 6, is a clear pick for the newly promoted Australians, but Taylor and team coach Nicole Bradtke had some tough decisions to make when selecting the remaining three players.
“Normally the team picks itself, but this year we waited until now because Alicia and Jelena were still in the (Australian Open) draw,” said Taylor. “If they had gone further Nicole and I would have taken this into consideration but we ended up basing the decision on year-round performance.
“Sam, Jarmila and Anastasia have had the stronger singles results, as shown by their rankings, and Rennae is still Top 10 in doubles. Groth has come so far this year and she can win big matches. Sam is playing very well at the moment and Anastasia and Rennae are proven Fed Cup performers.
“To win the tie we definitely need one star, which we have, and a good doubles team, which we have, and we need another player that can play and win big matches, and we have that too.
“Australia is playing the best team in Fed Cup for the last half decade, the most outstanding team. I mean three finals in five years and winners for the last two years, I think it is going to be a very difficult tie.
“The Italians are a great team of champions. They are solid and they always play and I think that is why they are great. Fed Cup is huge in Italy and it would be great to get that level of enthusiasm in this country.
“It is significant to be in the top eight. We deserve it and are now looking forward to the challenge.”
Italian captain Corrado Barazzutti is yet to name his team to travel to Hobart, although he has had the luxury of picking an unchanged side for the last two trophy-winning years. Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta have been the reliable singles players, with Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci playing important support roles.
If Schiavone does play, it would set up a rematch of last year's Roland Garros final when the Italian claimed a straight sets victory over Stosur to win her only Grand Slam title.
The deadline for player nominations is 26 January, when all the World Group and World Group II nations will submit their teams to the ITF.