Sharapova leads Russia against France in 1st round
Three-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova will play Virginie Razzano on Saturday when Russia hosts France in the first round of the Fed Cup.
In the opening singles match of the best-of-five series, two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova will face Alize Cornet.
''It will be my first time playing for Russia in Moscow,'' Sharapova said. ''And I think my experience of playing in a team environment a couple of years ago will definitely help me.''
Sharapova made her debut for Russia in the first round against Israel in 2008, winning both her matches. She beat Razzano in the second round of the Australian Open.
Kuznetsova has played in three of Russia's four Fed Cup title wins and has a 18-6 record.
France will be without its two highest-ranked players, Marion Bartoli and Aravane Rezai. In their absence, coach Nicola Escude chose the 67th-ranked Cornet to lead the team.
Cornet lost to eventual champion Kim Clijsters in the third round of the Australian Open for the best showing among French women in the event. But Cornet, who is 1-8 in the Fed Cup, hopes she is ready to challenge the Russian stars.
''I played two good matches at the Australian Open and it was a good start of the season,'' Cornet said. ''I came to Moscow really self-confident and I hope I can now forget about the two poor last seasons in my career.''
The Frenchwoman beat Kuznetsova in their only previous meeting on the WTA Tour in 2008.
''Our chances are good,'' Escude said. ''We know we are not favorites for the tie but we are fit perfectly and we are ready to do our best to win.''
But Russia captain Shamil Tarpischev downplayed Escude's enthusiasm.
''If we put away the rankings, I can say that both Cornet and Razzano can play a single match on a very high level,'' Tarpischev said. ''But frankly speaking, the result of the tie will depend on us.''
Russia is 8-0 at home since losing to France in the 2003 semifinals. The streak includes a win over France in the 2004 final. Russia prevailed again in the 2005 final, the last time the teams met.
In Sunday's reverse singles, Sharapova will play Cornet, while Kuznetsova will take on Razzano. In the doubles match, the Russian pair of Dinara Safina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will face the French duo of Julie Coin and Pauline Parmentier.
The reverse singles and doubles nominations can be changed depending on the results of the previous matches.
The winner will play either two-time defending champion Italy or Australia in the semifinals on April 16-17.