Maria Kirilenko heads to Moscow for Russia’s Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie in confident mood after winning her sixth career title in Thailand over the weekend.
The Russian defeated Sabine Lisicki 57 61 76(1) in the final of the PTT Pattaya Open to give herself a timely boost before leading Russia in this weekend’s Fed Cup clash against Japan.
The 26-year-old Moscow native has not won so much as a set in a Fed Cup singles rubber in two previous showings for her country, having lost 61 64 to Kim Clijsters in the first round on her debut in 2006 and 62 62 to Petra Kvitova in the 2011 final, and will be keen to amend that statistic at Moscow's Olympic Stadium on Friday. The world No. 13 has been in fine form this year – her only defeats have come at the hands of No. 3 Sara Errani in Sydney and No. 2 Serena Williams in Melbourne – and Kirilenko should be firing on all cylinders when the first ball is struck during her nation’s first ever meeting with Japan in Fed Cup.
A strong Russian side will feature four players ranked inside the Top 35 as world No. 20 Ekaterina Makarova, No. 28 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and No. 33 Elena Vesnina join forces with Kirilenko in a bid to defeat No. 60 Ayumi Morita, No. 77 Kimiko Date Krumm, No. 83 Misaki Doi and No. 152 Kurumi Nara and book a semifinal with either Slovak Republic or Serbia.
Dejan Vranes’ Serbia face a sterner challenge, on paper at least, as they bid to send Slovak Republic back into the World Group play-offs in the fourth meeting between the two nations. Last year’s finalists will field a strong team in Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic, Bojana Jovanovski and Vesna Dolonc but face a tricky test as world No. 14 Dominika Cibulkova and No. 55 Daniela Hantucova bid to maintain Slovak Republic’s status at the top level.
Defending champions Czech Republic face no easy task either as Australia bid to mark their return to the World Group after a year’s-absence with a shock win in Ostrava. The visitors boast three Grand Slam champions and a Grand Slam finalist in their ranks, with 2011 US Open champion Sam Stosur, 2011 Roland Garros mixed doubles champion Casey Dellacqua, 2013 Australian Open mixed doubles winner Jarmila Gajdosova joined by 16-year-old Australian Open women’s doubles finalist Ashleigh Barty. The Czechs, however, are undefeated in the competition since April 2010, when Italy defeated them 5-0 in the World Group semifinals.
Italy will take on USA in the World Group’s other tie, aiming to bounce back from losing the Fed Cup’s top ranking spot to the Czech Republic during last year’s semifinals. Corrado Barazzutti’s Italy have won their last two meetings with the USA, defeating Mary Joe Fernandez’s team in the 2009 and 2010 finals. In the absence of the Williams sisters, not to mention the absent Sloane Stephens, Varvara Lepchenko and Jamie Hampton will lead the line for USA against Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, with Melanie Oudin and Liezel Huber completing the line-up for the visitors.