Russia, led by captain Shamil Tarpischev, is bringing out the big guns for the first round of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group in 2011.
Drawn to play France in one of the hot first round clashes, Tarpischev revealed that Maria Sharapova will play the biggest annual women’s team sporting event.
He also announced that 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, former world No. 1 Dinara Safina and rising teenager Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will complete the line-up for Russia.
The tie, to be played on 5-6 February at the Olympic Stadium in Moscow, promises to draw a huge crowd with Sharapova added to the already impressive line-up for the home side.
“Sharapova has agreed to play the first round,” said Tarpischev, who is also president of the Russian Tennis Federation. “She is now fully recovered from the problems with her shoulder and again could challenge for the number one spot.”
The first and only other time that Sharapova has played Fed Cup was against Israel in 2008. She won both her singles rubbers on that occasion, against Shahar Peer and Tzipi Obziler, and following the tie expressed her excitement about the competition.
“It was incredible. It was incredible on many different levels. I honestly did not know what to expect from Fed Cup itself. It was a whole new experience,” Sharapova said at the time.
“None of the girls has ever seen a crowd like that, so it was really funny because after my match when we were all in the player lounge, I came back and they were like, ‘Welcome to Fed Cup. That's the way to debut your Fed Cup’.”
Russia and France have met eight times in Fed Cup with Russia holding a 5-3 lead. The Russians won the last two ties in 2004 and 2005 but both went down to the fifth and deciding rubber.
For the Russians, February’s tie will be their first home fixture in two years and they go in against France having won the last eight ties played in Russia. Their last loss on home soil was in 2003 in the semifinals and ironically it was against France.
Russia is ranked third in the Fed Cup rankings behind Italy and USA with just 92.50 points separating second and third.