Williams and Myskina up first in Moscow
Anastasia Myskina and Venus Williams will meet in the first rubber of the Russia v USA Fed Cup World Group I semifinal tie in Moscow. The draw has been made and is as follows:
Anastasia Myskina (RUS) v Venuw Williams (USA)
Elena Dementivea (RUS) v Mashona Washington (USA)
Elena Dementivea (RUS) v Venus Williams (USA)
Anastasia Myskina (RUS) v Mashona Washington (USA)
Vera Douchevina/Dinara Safina (RUS) v Corina Morariu/Venus Williams (USA)
This weekend's Russia v USA Fed Cup semifinal is the kind of tie to give the bookmakers a nightmare! First the Russians were favourites, but then their top players lost form during the claycourt season, the Americans hit form on the grass, and the visitors became the fancied team. But the withdrawal through injury of the world No. 1 Lindsay Davenport has once again made Russia marginal favourites in the last few hours before this eagerly awaited semifinal.
Almost exactly a week after stepping on court for the Wimbledon final, the newly crowned Wimbledon champion Venus Williams will appear on a temporary claycourt in Moscow's Olympic Stadium for what could be the pick of the weekend's five matches. Despite her form, she faces an uphill task against Anastasia Myskina, the reigning ITF World Champion who last year became the first Russian to win a Grand Slam title by triumphing on the clay of Roland Garros.
Though the Russian has been plagued by poor results and offcourt distractions this year, she played herself back into some form by reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals, and buoyed by a passionate home crowd in one of her favourite arenas, she could de-rail the US train before it even leaves the station.
"I love this building," Myskina said.
"I have won the Kremlin Cup here twice, I won the Fed Cup for Russia last year, I have played a lot of good matches - I'm really happy we're playing here."
But there's no lack of confidence in the American camp, either from Williams or from her team captain Zina Garrison.
"I'm competitive and I believe our team can win," said Garrison.
And Williams added: "We almost had it all. We had the best singles players, and the best doubles team with Corina [Morariu] and Lindsay, but I still think we have a strong team. I feel that nothing can stop the US as long as we have our hearts into it."
Davenport tweaked a back muscle in the final set of her epic Wimbledon final last Saturday, and despite a willingness to travel to Moscow, she was advised by doctors to give the injury time to heal. In her place, Mashona Washington makes her Fed Cup debut at the age of 29, becoming with her brother MaliVai Washington the first brother-and-sister combination to represent the USA in Davis Cup and Fed Cup in the Open Era.
"I didn't know that," said a bubbly Washington, who faces Elena Dementieva in the second of the opening day's rubbers.
"I'll have to tell Mal, I don't think he knew that either. He was very excited playing Davis Cup, and when I told him there was a possibility that I would be playing, he said 'you have to go, you just have to experience it.' I've been talking to him every day, telling him about my experiences, taking pictures and video, and just taking it all in. And it's always nice to make history!"
With a realistic chance of the tie going down to a deciding doubles, Williams' scratch pairing with Davenport's friend and doubles partner Corina Morariu could be tested to the full against Russia's nominated pair of Vera Douchevina and Dinara Safina.
"They're the same height," said Garrison of Williams and Davenport, "and Venus and Corina have been practising together, so I'm confident they'll be good."