It wouldn't be an exaggeration to state that in its short history, Ukrainian tennis has never had things so good. Granted, Andrei Medvedev reached a high of No. 4 in the world and a Roland Garros final, but in the main draw of last month's Australian Open the Ukraine could count seven, a record number of players at a Grand Slam.
In the space of four years the women's Fed Cup team has risen from No. 26 to No. 6 in the Fed Cup Nations Ranking and this weekend, finds itself playing a Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group tie for the first time.
Girls on top of their game
Spearheading the challenge for Ukraine are the Bondarenko sisters. Alona, two years the senior of Kateryna, has been ever present in the squad since she made her debut as a 17 year old. Not since being joined by her younger sibling though has the team enjoyed so much success; with Kateryna on board since 2005 the Ukrainians have won eight of their last nine ties.
The one loss against Italy did not deter, only delay Vlodymyr Bogdanov's team elevation to the elite eight of women's team tennis. Now 22 month's on from that defeat and it’s the azzurri who provide the weekend's challenge.
Once again Corrado Barazzutti has been able to call on his old faithfuls Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone to lead the way in singles but the skipper knows what sort of challenge they are in for. “Alona is a very solid player in very good shape and Kateryna has improved, every year she gets better, so this team are one of the best in the world.”
Leaving nothing to chance, the defending champions can name among their squad here this week a chef. Assured then of a more Italian brand of culinary delights, some things it seems are out of their hands. Inclement weather meant Monday's flight carrying all but two of the team to Kharkiv was forced to divert and land in Kiev, and if that wasn't disruption enough, the Italian's then made the decision to avoid travelling by train and use the bus. Eight treacherous hours later they arrived in Kharkiv. To add insult to injury, Schiavone has endured three days of practice without her own rackets and shoes - lost luggage meant a re-acquaintance only on Thursday.
Friday's draw took place in the stunning surroundings of the Superior Golf Club which one must imagine has not seen too much business in the last three months. On court first under the roof on Saturday will be Ukraine's number one Alona Bondarenko against Schiavone followed by Kateryna Bondarenko against Pennetta.
Ukraine with more than tennis on its mind
It would be no surprise if, with political elections taking place this weekend, the host nation had other things than tennis to concern itself with but it would seem this tie has caught the imagination. Two thousand seven hundred tickets have been sold on both Saturday and Sunday (the day of the polls).
The President of the Ukrainian Tennis Federation Vadim Schulman once said “our tennis players are more patriotic than out politicians”. With that in mind it's not hard to see an upset come the conclusion of the weekend.
Saturday - Play starts at 13:30 (11:30 GMT)
Alona Bondarenko (UKR) v Francesca Schiavone (ITA)
Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR) v Flavia Pennetta (ITA)
Sunday - Play starts at 13:00 (11:00 GMT)
Alona Bondarenko (UKR) v Flavia Pennetta (ITA)
Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR) v Francesca Schiavone (ITA)
Mariya Koryttseva / Viktoria Kutuzova (UKR) v Sara Errani / Roberta Vinci (ITA)