Sharapova makes home Fed Cup debut for Russia
Maria Sharapova will make her long-awaited home debut for Russia in a Fed Cup match against France this weekend.
Sharapova made her Fed Cup debut with two victories in a 4-1 first-round win in Israel in 2008. She said some in the crowd in Ramat Hasharon threw food onto the court while she was playing.
''That was a perfect experience for me,'' Sharapova said Wednesday. ''I think mentally it will be much easier this time. The crowd will cheer for us and no one will be throwing walnuts.''
Injuries prevented Sharapova from playing in the 2008 final and other Fed Cup matches.
The 13th-ranked Sharapova will be joined by another Grand Slam champion, Svetlana Kuznetsova, against an inexperienced France team. Former No. 1 Dinara Safina also will play for Russia on the hard courts at the Olympic indoor stadium.
The 23rd-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova has a 18-6 record in 11 matches for Russia. She was on the team that beat France 3-2 in the final in 2004 for its first Fed Cup title.
Russia has won its two last matches against France and leads 5-3 overall. Russia is unbeaten at home in eight matches since losing to France in the 2003 semifinals.
France, which won the title in 1997 and 2003, will be without its two highest-ranked players, No. 15 Marion Bartoli and No. 21 Aravane Rezai. Captain Nicola Escude picked the 67th-ranked Aliz Cornet to lead the team, which includes Virginie Razzano, Pauline Parmentier and Julie Coin
Rezai withdrew last month because of what she called inaccurate media reports over a WTA appearance ban against an undisclosed member of her family.
''The Russian team is really strong,'' Escude said. ''Our players work hard and they are ready to challenge the Russians.''
Cornet lost to eventual champion Kim Clijsters in the third round of the Australian Open for the best showing among French women.
The four Russians have a winning record against their French opponents.
Sharapova beat Razzano in the second round of the Australian Open - the only match between the eight players this season.
''I really enjoyed playing her and now I know her strong and weak sides much better,'' Razzano said.
Russia is on home turf for the first time since routing China 5-0 in the first round in 2009. Russia won its fourth title in 2008 and reached the semifinals the next two seasons.
The draw is Friday. The winner will play either defending champion Italy or Australia in the semifinals on April 16-17.