By Richard Van Poortvliet in Moscow
All the talk in Moscow over the last few days has been about Maria Sharapova, who’s all set to make her long awaited home Fed Cup by BNP Paribas debut.
But Sharapova, who has only played Fed Cup once before for Russia, and never on Russian soil, turned out to be a no-show for what was supposed to be her first Moscow sighting this Fed Cup week.
Calm down though, it wasn’t Maria’s fault.
She was due to hold her first training session in the Russian capital on Tuesday evening, and there was no surprise that it seemed like every television channel and newspaper reporter in the country had descended on the Olympic Stadium. Just a glimpse would’ve satisfied, but most were preferably hoping for a word, with the 23 year-old.
There was only one slight problem. Sharapova failed to turn up as her flight from America had been delayed, much to the disappointment of the waiting press.
The Russian, who has lived most of her life in the United States, has certainly been racking up the air miles recently. She sandwiched in a short break at her Florida home in-between playing at the Australian Open and playing Fed Cup.
Even the frigid Moscow weather has been welcoming for Sharapova, who says she’s “getting used to her new surroundings.” For the first time in months, the temperature has actually risen above zero degrees with pre New Year’s temperatures of minus 20, a thing of the past.
Fans of Russia’s top women players have been starved for tennis recently as it’s been almost two years since Russia last played a Fed Cup match at home. Meanwhile, Sharapova will certainly be doing her best to warm up the home crowd, as she’s all set to play her first match in Russia since 2007.
But the big question is whether Frenchwoman Virginie Razzano is ready to challenge Sharapova in front of adoring fans that rarely see the Russian in action when they play on Saturday?
Hobart: Quite a photo opp
By Craig Gabriel in Hobart
What a gorgeous location was chosen for the Fed Cup first round tie between defending champions Italy and host nation Australia.
Will Australia take advantage of the beautiful vistas of the home court advantage of Hobart? Or will the reigning champions borrow the beauty to inspire their own cause towards a third straight Fed Cup title in 2011?
Set in Hobart, Tasmania, the Domain Tennis Centre has an elevated position that looks across to the stunning Derwent River and the harbour. Behind the venue is Mt Wellington which, during winter, often has a covering of snow.
It has to be one of the most picturesque spots on the circuit as this is the same location for the regular WTA event on the tour. And for those adventurous souls this is where cruise ships dock for sailings down to Antarctica.
The city is quaint with fabulous restaurants specialising in the purest-and-freshest seafood. Restaurants, wonderful little boutiques and charming shops housed in original sandstone buildings hug the harbour foreshore.
Team members from both nations know what it takes to win in Hobart as they enjoyed success at the tennis centre in advance of the Australian Open this year. Australia’s Jarmila (Jarka) Groth won the singles title and the crack Italian doubles combination Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci won the doubles title.
Hoping on a home court advantage
By Peter Bengtsson in Helsingborg
Is 2011 the year that Swedish women elevate their level of tennis?
It could be with Sweden able to boast two Top 100 players – No. 60 Sofia Arvidsson and No. 74 Johanna Larsson. This weekend, Arvidsson and Larsson are spearheading Sweden’s Fed Cup World Group II action against Ukraine on home soil.
The good news is that Arvidsson and Larsson are both very familiar with the Helsingborg locale where the tie is being held as they both play for the Helsingborg Tennis Club. In fact, it was their team that won the Swedish Team Championships in December.
Larsson was born up north, but grew up in Varberg, which is on the west coast of Sweden and just an hour-and-a-half drive from Helsingborg. For the last two years or so, Larsson’s made the small coastal town of Helsingborg her home.
Arvidsson lives in Halmstad, just an hour drive up the coast. The part of the city where she lives is actually called Kärleken (“The Love”). In between Halmstad and Helsinborg we have Bastad, which can be dubbed Tennis Mecca, Swedish style.
The small town of Bastad is home to an ATP and a WTA event and is where the National Tennis Centre is located. Arvidsson and Larsson spent a lot of time when younger in Bastad, and now often practise together at Helsingborg’s tennis arena, which is just two second serves away from Idrottens Hus, the location for the Fed Cup tie this weekend.
The Swedish women are setting the pace for the men to follow when they host Russia in Davis Cup first round action in March. Sweden’s star, Robin Soderling, has a lot of historical pressure to deal with when it comes to Davis Cup. Players like Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg, Mats Wilander, and Jonas Bjorkman led Sweden to seven Davis Cup titles in the Open Era, but their last victory was in 1998.
In contrast, Sweden has never hoisted the Fed Cup trophy and the first step will be finding a path into the World Group. No doubt that Sweden is hoping that Arvidsson and Larsson are the players who can usher the country into a position to contend for the Fed Cup trophy in the future.
Antwerp: The super bowl of diamonds
By Barry Millns in Antwerp
They say ‘diamonds are a girl’s best friend’ and here in Antwerp, the diamond capital of the world, the visiting American players are well aware that it is!
Bethanie Mattek-Sands told me “My husband’s already done his scouting and honestly my husband probably knows more about diamonds than I do which is great! I haven’t had a chance to look around but I am excited. They are a girl’s best friend.”
Melanie Oudin, sporting a fine pair of diamond earrings at Friday’s draw, agreed but insisted she wouldn’t be tempted to buy more: “I heard everything about the diamonds here so we might actually get the chance to go and look, not buy, just look!”
Whether Bethanie and hubby Justin are still talking, though, after Sunday’s Superbowl XLV between Green Bay and Pittsburgh in Arlington, Texas remains to be seen. “Packers all the way,” she cheered. “I’m a huge Green Bay fan. Obviously back in the day when Brett Favre played for them I was a big fan but still am. My husband is going the other way so it’s kind of a family feud, but Go Pack Go!”
If Pittsburgh win it may take another visit to the diamond stores here for Justin to smooth things over!
Eilat: The perfect outdoor venue for a winter tournament
By Ray Stevens in Eilat
Eilat has turned out to be a fantastic place for the Fed Cup as most of Europe, and indeed the rest of Israel, are experiencing wintry weather. But here in Eilat, it feels just like summer.
The spectacular backdrop of the dark red Edom Mountains to the east in nearby Jordan as seen from the Municipal Tennis Club have encapsulated a perfect setting for this week’s Fed Cup Europe/Africa Group I tournament. And the good news is the event is turning out to produce some magnificent tennis courtesy of some of the best players in the world.
Chief among the players who jetted into Eilat, a resort city that is bisected by the main airport runway, is world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki. And the city is also hosting a few of Wozniacki’s closest challengers – Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska, Belarus’s Victoria Azarenka, and Israel’s Shahar – as well as a number of other Top 50 players. The aim for everyone taking part is to be one of the two teams to earn a future place in World Group II.
There are some new fans – local Eilat residents who rarely venture beyond the comfort of their remote town - in the crowd enjoying the tennis. But there are also the familiar faces of Israel's tried-and-true tennis fans that couldn’t resist such an event, and chose to endure the five-hour drive from Tel Aviv to see Fed Cup tennis this week.
The crowd have not been disappointed by the tennis, and have particularly delighted in the success of a new local star, Julia Glushko. Fans might have been shocked, but Glushko wasn’t surprised at all to win all her singles rubbers on the first three days of competition.
"I trusted myself enough to win those matches, I have been working really hard and I have improved a lot so there is no reason for me not to win," Glushko said.
Julia Glushko (ISR) - 04/02/2011