MOSCOW, RUSSIA: Russia’s Maria Kirilenko and Czech Republic’s Petra Kvitova will meet in the opening rubber of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final, which gets under way at the Olympic Stadium in Moscow on Saturday.
Kirilenko, who was somewhat of a surprise inclusion in the Russian team given that her only previous appearance came in 2006, finds herself opening proceedings against Kvitova, the world No. 2, after her name was drawn first at Friday’s official draw ceremony.
The second rubber sees Svetlana Kuznetsova, who steps up to play as the Russian team’s No. 1 player, face Lucie Safarova, before the players change opponents on Sunday for the reverse singles rubbers.
If the tie goes to a deciding fifth rubber, the nominated doubles pairs are Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Elena Vesnina for Russia and Lucie Hradecka and Kveta Peschke for Czech Republic, although the captains are allowed to make substitutions.
Play starts at 2pm (10am GMT) on both Saturday and Sunday. The full draw is listed below.
R1: Maria Kirilenko (RUS) v Petra Kvitova (CZE)
R2: Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) v Lucie Safarova (CZE)
R3: Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) v Petra Kvitova (CZE)
R4: Maria Kirilenko (RUS) v Lucie Safarova (CZE)
R5: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova / Elena Vesnina v Lucie Hradecka / Kveta Peschke (CZE)
Kirilenko has been named in the singles line-up due to the withdrawal of Vera Zvonareva, who was forced to pull out at the last minute because of a shoulder problem that she sustained last month at the Kremlin Cup.
The world No.7’s injury could prove to be pivotal in this year’s Final, as her replacement, Vesnina, is ranked 50 places lower in the world standings, but Kvitova remains cautious and certainly won’t underestimate the Russians.
“I don’t think so,” said Kvitova, responding to the question of whether Zvonareva’s absence will make life easier for the Czechs. “I think they are still strong, very strong, and I think it’s still open. It’s going be like 50-50.”
Kvitova is right about the strength in depth of Russia, as no other nation has as many Top 100 players, but the gap Zvonareva has left in the team will come as a major blow to Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev, who was already without his top ranked player, Maria Sharapova.
It came as no surprise that Tarpischev opted for the experience of Kuznetsova, a three-time Fed Cup winner, in his singles line-up, but what came as more of a shock was that he picked Kirilenko ahead of Pavlyuchenkova, who is now the highest ranked player in this Russian side.
Tarpischev described the decision as tactical, while Kirilenko, strangely talking in the third person during the press conference, added that “with respect to Maria Kirilenko, she says she is feeling really well right now.”
So Kirilenko opens the tie against Kvitova, which will be a third meeting between the two players with the Russian currently undefeated after winning both their previous match-ups in 2009.
Despite this record, the in-form Kvitova will be strong favourite to claim her first victory over Kirilenko and get the Czechs off to a winning start. Last week, the reigning Wimbledon champion capped her impressive individual season by winning the year-end WTA Championships.
The second rubber between Kuznetsova and Safarova looks likely to be a tighter affair. The Russian leads their head-to-head series 2-1 and has experience on her side, but the Czech left-hander has been in good form of late and reached the semifinals of the Kremlin Cup, also held at Moscow’s Olympic Stadium, just a fortnight ago.
Without doubt this tie could swing either way, as the home advantage for the Russians shouldn’t be taken lightly, but with the absence of Zvonareva and the recent form of Kvitova it looks increasingly like the Czechs will have the edge when the action gets under way on Saturday.
Lucie Hradecka and Kveta Peschke (CZE) - 04/11/2011
Maria Kirilenko (RUS) - 04/11/2011
Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) - 04/11/2011
Petra Kvitova (CZE) - 04/11/2011
Petr Pala (CZE) - 04/11/2011
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Elena Vesnina (RUS) - 04/11/2011
Lucie Safarova (CZE) - 04/11/2011