Americans look forward to Belgium and beyond
Russia, you have been warned.
The United States, wounded and smarting after five years out of the limelight, are gunning for their first Fed Cup title since 2000.
"We really want to win this year to get the Fed Cup back to the US, where I think it belongs," said Serena Williams.
Serena will be part of one of the strongest US teams in recent memory, with world number one Lindsay Davenport, Venus Williams and doubles specialist Corina Morariu joining forces for Zina Garrison's side in their first-round match against Belgium at Delray Beach on April 23-24. With Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne likely to be absent as they continue their recovery from injury, the US are huge favourites for the tie, but the Garrison four have more lofty aims on their minds.
"It's one of the best teams we've fielded in years," said Davenport, who will be making her first appearance in the event since 2002.
"I'm really excited about that. Serena, Venus and I have committed to it through the year, and I think if we play well, we're going to be very tough to beat.
"It's a huge honour and after a few years out I'm excited to get back into the mix. It'll be a lot of fun."
Fun it may be but the fact that Davenport and the Williams sisters will be teaming up for the first time since 1999, when they beat Russia in the final, shows just how seriously they are taking it. Since their last triumph in 2000, the emergence of Belgium and more recently Russia, as forces in womenís tennis has strengthened the depth of the event.
Russia, led by French Open champion Anastasia Myskina, won their first Fed Cup in 2004 and with world number five Elena Dementieva and six other top-20 ranked players from whom to choose, they should meet the US in the semifinals.
"It's going to be tough, but I think we're really strong this year and we have a great team," Serena said.
For Morariu, the only true doubles specialist on the team, Fed Cup holds extra significance. In 2001, just three months after winning her second grand slam doubles title, Morariu was struck down by acute promyelocytic leukaemia.
After intense chaemotherapy treatment, she returned to the tour in 2002 but then suffered a serious shoulder injury which saw her struggle for fitness. Amid emotional scenes, the 27-year-old joined up with Davenport to reach the final at the Australian Open this year, and was rewarded with a place on the team to face Belgium.
"I've always enjoyed playing doubles and for me the Fed Cup is really special," she said.
"I was on the team in 1998 and after all I went through, and with the injury, to be back on the team is really a special feeling for me.
"I think it's always been important (to the US). It's just been a matter of getting everyone healthy and getting the schedules right.
"It's been a while since we last won it but we have some of the best players in the world and hopefully this will be our year."
Coincidentally, all four of the American team met up at the Bausch & Lomb Championships in Florida this week, and Morariu admitted the subject of Fed Cup was hanging in the air.
"It hasn't come up yet, but that's not to say it won't," she said.
"We all love playing Fed Cup because the whole week is great, the camaraderie is a lot of fun, so we're all looking forward to it."