Australian captain David Taylor has named a seven-player squad that will compete for places on the country’s Fed Cup team in 2011.
World No. 6 Samantha Stosur is expected to lead the team, but who plays alongside her is very much up for grabs.
Anastasia Rodionova, Alicia Molik and Jelena Dokic are all vying for the second singles spot, while the evergreen Rennae Stubbs is hoping to gain a berth as doubles speciailist.
Sophie Ferguson and Jarmila Groth, who just gained Australian citizenship from her native Slovakia, have also been nominated in the squad and will be making their Fed Cup debuts for Australia if they get the nod.
Only four players will make the final cut, so Taylor and team coach Nicole Bradtke will be keeping a keen eye on the start of the season Down Under, culminating with the Australian Open.
Australia’s 2011 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas campaign kicks off with a mouth watering first round home clash against double defending champions Italy, being held at Hobart’s Domain Tennis Centre on 5-6 February.
The Aussies, having sealed promotion with a 5-0 whitewash of Ukraine last April, will be making their first appearance in the World Group – Fed Cup’s top tier – since 2004.
“There has been some strong individual performances and milestones recorded throughout 2010,” said Taylor, who is starting his sixth season at the helm.
“Sam reached a career high of No. 5 in July, Jarmila recorded her highest ever ranking of No. 41 in September and won her first WTA event in Guangzhou, Anastasia recorded her career-high ranking of No. 62 in August, and Sophie also had a career high of No. 109 in July this year.
“Add to these performances two experienced former Top 10 players, Jelena and Alicia, and a Top 10 doubles player, Rennae, and we have a lot of depth to choose from for our Fed Cup clash in February.
“It will also be Jarmila’s first chance at a Fed Cup debut after her long wait for Australian citizenship, which was granted last year.
“Both Nicole and I will be watching all seven players’ performances over the next month to select the strongest possible team to take to Hobart.”
Italy comes into the tie fresh from being crowned Fed Cup champion for the third time after defeating USA 3-1 in the final to win a second straight title.
Francesca Schiavone is likely to spearhead the visiting challenge, setting up a rematch of this year’s Roland Garros final when the Italian defeated Stosur to lift her sole Grand Slam trophy.
If Italian captain Corrado Barazzutti also names Flavia Pennetta, Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani, he will extend his run of selecting an unchanged team to seven ties.
“The World Group boasts some very tough competition,” said Bradtke, who played on the Australian Fed Cup team between 1988 and 1996.
“We’re looking forward to taking on Italy, who have a tremendous record in Fed Cups and I am expecting the tie to be a close challenge but one which is achievable.
“Playing the champion team we will be seen as the underdogs but, like the Italian team, the Aussie girls are all very passionate about playing for their country and with the home crowd advantage we will have an extra edge in February.”
Official team nominations for all first round ties – World Group and World Group II – are due on 26 January.
Watch this tie live on: FedCup.tv