Australia’s Fed Cup team, weakened by high-profile absentees, remains desperate to fight its way back “where we belong” in the elite World Group with, a journey which needs to start with victory over Slovakia this weekend.
Team captain Alicia Molik, rocked by the unavailability of the injured Jarmila Wolfe (back) and the red tape saga which has hamstrung Daria Gavrilova, admits she is yet to settle on a final four – and may not until just before Friday’s draw in Bratislava for the World Group II tie.
With veteran pair Sam Stosur and Casey Dellacqua locked in, along with teenage world No.296 Kimberly Birrell, Molik expects to use Thursday’s practise session to decide between No.314 Arina Rodionova or No.355 Storm Sanders – with Molik conceding she will pick whoever shows the greater adaptability to the indoor hard court.
And they will be tasked with atoning for last year’s Fed Cup blues, in which Australia gave up their spot in the World Group to the Netherlands in a lost tie which still burns Molik.
“We’re incredibly eager to get back into the World Group. That was really disappointing and hurt for a long time,” Molik told AAP.
“We shouldn’t be in this position but we’ve got to earn our way back.
“It’s not a right, and I think that’s what the team understands as well.
“We let ourselves down last tie so (against Slovakia is) about a bit of redemption and fighting for where we belong.”
Australia’s preparations have been hampered by an International Tennis Federation decision to bar the Russian-born Gavrilova, who has lived in Australia since she was 15 and gained citizenship in December, from the Slovakia tie.
New ITF eligibility rules state a player must now hold citizenship for two years – a decision which Tennis Australia is appealing, but won’t allow the young starlet, who reached the Australian Open fourth round last month, to take on Slovakia.
Instead Molik will call on a pair of dependable veterans in world No.27 Stosur, 31, and the 30-year-old world No.127 Dellacqua.
“We are heavily reliant on Sam and I feel like that’s a really fortunate position to be in because I know how good she is in coming through with the goods at Fed Cup,” Molik added.
“Having Sam and Casey is critical – and not just for the competition weekend on Saturday and Sunday.
“I think it’s just the calmness and professionalism in the preparation for the weekend as well, which both rubs off on the rest of the team and sets a high standard.”
Dellacqua, who this week rose to a career-high world No.3 doubles ranking, shapes as a crucial figure in silencing a vocal home crowd and dangerous Slovakian team boasting world No.29 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, No.66 Dominika Cibulkova and former world No.5 Daniela Hantuchova.