Australians Upbeat Despite Russian Test
There can be few more daunting tasks for any Fed Cup team right now than taking on Russia, but it seems to take more than the prospect of a first round tie against the Cup favourites to get Australian captain Evonne Goolagong Cawley and her team down.
"It's a type of situation where we've got nothing to lose
," said the irrepressibly cheerful Goolagong Cawley, who brought her the squad to Moscow a few days early to help them get acclimatized.
"They are expected to win, but personally I've always loved being in the position where I have nothing to lose," she said. "On paper they are the best team but it's a different situation when you are playing for your country because there's a lot of pressure out there."
The Russian team, lead by World No.5 Anastasia Myskina, and World No.6 Nadia Petrova, has strength and depth to spare, thanks to the seemingly endless supply of female tennis talent pouring forth from the country. It's the sort of embarrassment of riches that Australia would kill for.
"They're going to be a bit nervous of us because I know my girls are improving all the time," said Goolagong Cawley. "Their rankings are going higher all the time, and if it's a one-off situation in Fed Cup
, if they play well on their day, I think we've got a great chance."
Australia's hand has been further weakened by the withdrawal of Fed Cup stalwart Nicole Pratt, the veteran of 21 Fed Cup matches and a player renowned for her fighting spirit when faced with adversity.
"She's always been a tough competitor and will definitely be missed," Goolagong-Cawley said, before pointing out that both of her singles players, Alicia Molik and Samantha Stosur, are enjoying careers on an upward curve.
Molik is ranked 37, while Stosur recently played her way inside the World's Top 100 and seems poised to go higher.
"All of the Australian girls are playing well at the moment and, hopefully, I'll get to play a match," said 20-year-old Stosur, who trains in Melbourne.
"The opportunity is there for Sam to play and she put on a great show in her debut against Colombia in Wollongong last year and she's improved a lot since then," said Goolagong Cawley.
The tie could also present an opportunity for teenager Olivia Lukaszewicz
, who has been called up as a late replacement for Pratt and, according to her captain, could end up being something of a secret weapon for Australia.
"We chose Olivia again because she hits the ball very similar to the Russian girls and as the old saying goes: horses for courses," said Goolagong Cawley.
Should the Australians beat Russia it would represent one of the biggest first-round upsets in Fed Cup history, but Goolagong Cawley's enthusiasm in the face of such a challenge certainly seems to have rubbed off on her team.
"They (Russia) are all ranked higher than us but that doesn't mean anything in the Fed Cup and in team competitions," said Stosur bullishly. "I think we've got a chance of doing well."