HOBART, AUSTRALIA: Sunny skies and sunny smiles from both teams following the draw for the 2011 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie between the two-time defending champions from Italy and the second most successful team in the 49-year-old competition, Australia.
Friday's matches will be crucial but tennis fans in Hobart, Australia are excited about the rematch of last year's Roland Garros women's final on Sunday with the hope that Australia's No. 1 Samantha Stosur can get revenge against Italy's No. 1 Francesca Schiavone in the first of the reverse singles.
The setting is magical. The Domain Tennis Centre, nestled among Australian gum trees with a panoramic view of the city and the harbour where huge ocean liners dock en route to the Antarctic or across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand, is a most beautiful venue for the first round tie between Australia and Italy.
It’s nearly impossible to ignore the stunning surroundings but that is exactly what the players from both teams will have to do over the next two days.
Australia is playing in the World Group for the first time since 2004, having defeated Ukraine 5-0 in last year's play-off round, and is fielding its strongest team in years with Samantha Stosur and Jarmila Groth leading the squad.
Italy, meanwhile, has won seven consecutive ties and is spearheaded by its Grand Slam winner and marathon woman Francesca Schiavone and 2011 Australian Open doubles champion Flavia Pennetta.
The draw for the weekend was announced and opening the weekend will be Groth in her Fed Cup debut playing Schiavone, then Stosur plays Pennetta.
“I’m very excited and I’ve been looking forward to this for a very long time, since I was nominated to the team,” Groth said. “It’s great to be part of such a great team and I will try to do my best and help them to a really good start.
“Playing Francesca will be very tough. She is a great player and has had great results like winning a Grand Slam, and it will be an honour to play her which I haven’t done before.”
The reverse singles on Sunday has the eagerly awaited match between world No. 5 Stosur and the new world No.4 Schiavone; their most celebrated match being last year’s French Open final won by the Italian.
“To be No.4 it was a lot of hard work but I was ready to go up and take the big trophy and get big satisfaction,” Schiavone said. “Now it’s time to enjoy and to keep going up. I never stop and I never want to. I want to keep going forward like a baby, curious to know more and more and more.”
After that Groth, who won the singles title on this very court three weeks ago, plays Pennetta and then the doubles will feature Australian veteran Rennae Stubbs, in potentially the last match of her career, teaming with Anastasia Rodionova to play Italy's Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci.
The Italian duo, like Groth, posted a title win in the doubles here a few weeks ago. Errani has a 15-0 record in Fed Cup doubles for Italy and will be a difficult opponent for the Aussies.
The full draw is listed below.
R1: Jarmila Groth (AUS) v Francesca Schiavone (ITA)
R2: Samantha Stosur (AUS) v Flavia Pennetta (ITA)
R3: Samantha Stosur (AUS) v Francesca Schiavone (ITA)
R4: Jarmila Groth (AUS) v Flavia Pennetta (ITA)
R5: Anastasia Rodianova / Rennae Stubbs (AUS) v Sara Errani / Roberta Vinci (ITA)
Watch this tie live on: FedCup.tv
Captain Corrado Barazzutti (ITA) - 04/02/2011
Francesca Schiavone (ITA) - 04/02/2011
Flavia Pennetta (ITA) - 04/02/2011
Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci (ITA) - 04/02/2011
Captain David Taylor (AUS) - 04/02/2011
Samantha Stosur (AUS) - 04/02/2011
Jarmila Groth (AUS) - 04/02/2011
Rennae Stubbs and Anastasia Rodionova (AUS) - 04/02/2011