Sydney, Australia, 12 July 2013 | AAP
The Russians are coming and Australia are relishing the chance to topple the world’s No.1 women’s tennis team in the first round of the 2014 Fed Cup.
Back in the eight-team World Group after downing Switzerland in this year’s playoffs, Australia will host Russia on February 8-9, almost certainly on a hard court the week after the Australian Open.
“That would make sense. That’s our best surface,” Australian captain Alicia Molik said after drawing a rare home first-round tie.
Champions four times in the past decade and also through to the 2013 final against Italy, Russia boast unrivalled depth but Molik is quietly confident of springing a boilover.
“I’d rather draw them at the start. I think that’s the best time to play the top seeds in Fed Cup,” she said.
“It’s the end of a long Australian summer. Everyone’s keen to go home and Aussies will be keen to play.
“They’d have been playing on hard courts for a number of months and we’re dangerous on hard courts.”
Australia will be led by former US Open champion Samantha Stosur, but the rapid rise of teenager Ashleigh Barty also excites Molik.
The 17-year-old has reached the Australian Open and Wimbledon doubles finals in 2013 with Casey Dellacqua and their partnership gives the team a vital edge.
“It’s amazing what’s she’s achieved this year and having someone like Ash brings extra energy to the team as well,” Molik said.
“It reinvigorates them and reminds all the other girls how special it is to represent Australia.
“Russia are never easy, but I think we’ve got the team to win, definitely.
“We have a reasonable track record against Russia. Individually, we’ve got a good track record against them as well.
“Sam’s been very dominant against Kirilenko, their No.1 player, and I just want our team to build on our success they’ve had this year.
“If they can put in a great US Open, we’ve got so much to look forward to.”