Updated: 11:00 AM EST
Tennis-Sharapova ponders her Russian Fed Cup future
By Gennady Fyodorov, Reuters
MOSCOW, April 1 (Reuters)
- Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova has 10 days to decide whether to join the Russian Fed Cup team, the country's tennis chief said on Friday.
"She received a firm offer to join our squad for a first round tie against Italy on April 23-24," Shamil Tarpishchev, who is also Russia's Fed Cup captain, told Reuters in an interview.
Tarpishchev had just returned from Miami where he spent several days trying to persuade the 17-year-old and her father Yuri to commit themselves to Russia's cause.
"It's basically very simply. She (Sharapova) must say yes or no before April 10 when I will announce the team," he said. "So we'll just wait and see what happens and take it from there."
He refused to be drawn on media speculation that the Florida-based Russian might reject the offer and switch her allegiance to the U.S., where she has lived since childhood.
Russian press has reported that the Siberian-born player was invited to join the U.S. Fed Cup team last year and although Sharapova denied any offer was made, questions about her future remain.
Sharapova has been in great form, beating former world number ones Venus Williams and Justine Henin-Hardene this week to reach the Nasdaq-100 final.
Victory over Belgian Kim Clijsters in Saturday's final would take Sharapova to number two in the world.
"No question, Sharapova has been our best and most consistent player so far this year and if she commits herself to playing for Russia, we definitely have a great chance of defending our Fed Cup title," Tarpishchev said.
He also said that French Open champion Anastasia Myskina and beaten finalist Elena Dementieva had already made themselves available to play against Italy.
On paper, Russia would have the strongest squad with possibly three grand slam champions in Myskina, Sharapova and U.S. Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova and Dementieva joining forces.
But internal problems could spoil Russia's campaign.
Myskina led Russia to their first Fed Cup title on home soil last November, winning her two singles rubbers against defending champions France before teaming up with Vera Zvonareva in the decisive doubles to clinch a 3-2 victory.
The triumph, however, was overshadowed by squabbles in the Russian camp after Myskina accused Sharapova and her father of being disrespectful to her.
Myskina said she would not play for Russia if the Wimbledon champion was invited to join the team next year.
The two players have since publicly patched up their differences, although Tarpishchev will have a tough job moulding his temperamental charges together to make a strong team.
To make matters worse, Dementieva and Kuznetsova had a verbal spat shortly after their heated showdown in last year's U.S. Open final.
"Well, I'm not a babysitter and this is not a kindergarten," Tarpishchev said in reference to the Fed Cup team.
"We have certain rules within the team that everyone must follow. Otherwise, they're out. As for Sharapova, it's up to her to decide. The ball is clearly in her court now," he added.