KHARKIV, UKRAINE: This Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off tie between the USA and Ukraine looks a bit like the story of David slaying Goliath in advance of the weekend’s action. The Americans have brought their biggest star of the past decade in Serena Williams, a former world No. 1 and 13-time Grand Slam champion. The Ukraine’s top player on the team, Lesia Tsurenko, is ranked just outside the Top 100.
The home team has chosen the spectacular site of the Superior Golf & Spa Resort in Kharkiv to host this weekend’s tie. No one -- not even the USA contingent who had to travel a great distance here -- could have any complaints about this “superior” brand new site that offers golf, spa and fabulous food.
But despite all the spa options, the weekend is all about the tennis. On Friday, the draw ceremony occurred in the golf clubhouse to provide the necessary information of how the tie will go forth.
The 110th-ranked Tsurenko, the leading lady of the Ukrainian team, was the first name picked out of the split tennis ball. She’ll start the tie off by taking on American Christina McHale, who arrived in Kharkiv as the 36th-ranked player in the world.
“I’m really looking forward to it and I think I will enjoy every moment of this tie,” said Tsurenko, who will see her mother for the first time in two years during this tie. “I’m happy to play against this great team and one of the greatest players of the last 10 years, Serena Williams.”
That match will be followed by the star attraction of this Fed Cup tie: Serena Williams. She’ll face 171st-ranked Elina Svitolina in the second rubber on Saturday.
“I don’t know much about her,” Williams admitted. “Mary’s (USA Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez) been telling me a few things about her. I don’t really play my opponent because I just try to play my game.”
Sunday’s action starts off with the two top players from each team -- Tsurenko and Williams -- competing in the third rubber followed by Svitolina and McHale. The fifth rubber is all about the doubles, pitting Ukrainian twins Lyudmyla and Nadiya Kichenok against the Americans, who feature Liezel Huber, the top doubles player in the world, along with Sloane Stephens by her side. Of course, if for any reason the tie goes down to a decision in the doubles it can be expected that Williams, a two-time Olympic doubles gold medalist, will partner Huber in hope of the win.
“We come in trying not to think of ourselves as underdogs or favorites because in tennis anything can happen,” Huber said. “We’re just going to play our game.”
Williams, who holds a 6-0 singles record in Fed Cup, is making her second straight Fed Cup appearance this season. While she said “I prefer to play first”, in actuality she’s never played the opening match in Fed Cup.
McHale scored her first Fed Cup victories against Belarus in February, winning both of her matches in Worcester, Massachusetts. She heads into this tie with a 2-3 Fed Cup singles record.
Tsurenko holds a 3-3 record in Fed Cup singles activity and is playing as the Ukrainian No. 1 player for the second time. The last time she was in the top position she won a singles and doubles match against Australia in the 2011 World Group play-off.
Svitolina, only 17, is making her debut on the Ukrainian Fed Cup team this weekend.
An interesting aspect of the weekend is that this will be the first time that any of the singles players have squared off against each other.
The USA is the most successful nation in Fed Cup history with 17 Fed Cup titles. This year marks the first time that the USA has played in World Group II action. They’re hoping to win this tie to move back into World Group action in 2013, which will be the 50th anniversary of the Fed Cup -- the USA were the first ever Fed Cup champions back in 1963.
The Ukraine first played Fed Cup in 1993 and this season marks their second time playing in World Group action (2010 and 2012).
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Lesia Tsurenko (UKR) v Christina McHale (USA)
R2: Elina Svitolina (UKR) v Serena Williams (USA)
R3: Lesia Tsurenko (UKR) v Serena Williams (USA)
R4: Elina Svitolina (UKR) v Christina McHale (USA)
R5: Lyudmyla Kichenok/Nadiya Kichenok (UKR) v Liezel Huber/Sloane Stephens (USA)
Follow this tie with live scoring and live streaming:
Serena Williams (USA) - 20/04/2012
Lesia Tsurenko (UKR) - 20/04/2012
Captain Mary Joe Fernandez (USA) - 20/04/2012