Prague - Maria Sharapova has played only
four Fed Cup ties, but her presence on the court could make all the difference
as Russia take on holders the Czech Republic in the 2015 final at the weekend.
The 28-year-old world number four will
likely face sixth-ranked Petra Kvitova and ninth-ranked Lucie Safarova, the
left-handed duo who have led the Czechs to three Fed Cup titles from the last
"It's a great way to finish off the
year playing with two of the best players," said Sharapova, a five-time
Grand Slam winner, who was sidelined with leg and arm problems from July to
"It's definitely a very new
experience, I've been part of the team on different occasions but never in the
Sharapova returned to action at the WTA
Tour Finals last month, where she lost to Kvitova in the semi-finals - after
losing to Safarova at the French Open in June.
"I know how difficult an opponent they
are and it will be a great challenge for me," said Sharapova, called up
alongside 23rd-ranked Ekaterina Makarova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (28) and
Elena Vesnina (111).
"We are coming into these finals as
the underdogs," she added.
Russian captain Anastasia Myskina said she
was pleased to have Sharapova on the team, waving aside a decade-old rift
between them over Sharapova's father.
"Definitely it's very important to have
Maria on the team and I want to say thank you," said Myskina as her team
giggled their way through a press conference.
Equally high-spirited, the Czech team
denied being the odds-on favourite.
"They have the highest-ranking player
and a permanent doubles pair" of Vesnina and Makarova, said Czech captain
"The chances are perfectly even,"
added Pala, who has also nominated 11th-ranked Karolina Pliskova and world
number 41 Barbora Strycova.
Dubbing Sharapova "Marushka", the
Czech for "little Maria", Kvitova and Safarova said they would bet on
left-handed rotation against her.
"With Marushka, it's always a matter
of the few chances she gives you," said Kvitova, the 2011 and 2014
Wimbledon champion, who is 4-6 head-to-head with Sharapova.
"Left-handed rotation will help, and
of course you have to fight until the end, Marushka doesn't give up until the
The two nations have met five times in the
Fed Cup before but three of those meetings were between Czechoslovakia and the
The Czech team lead their head-to-head
record with Russia 3-2, including a victory in the most recent encounter in the
2011 final in Moscow.
The Czechs have won the trophy eight times,
including five victories as Czechoslovakia which went on to split into the
Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.
Four-time champions Russia will be playing
in their 11th Fed Cup final.