Australia’s Fed Cup team are battling the bitter cold and the absence of Samantha Stosur as they look to win a place back at the top table of women’s tennis.
Alicia Molik’s team are in freezing Kharkiv in northheast Ukraine this weekend for a World Group II face-off.
It’s a world away from the 30-plus temperatures of Melbourne Park enjoyed by Fed Cup teammates Daria Gavrilova, Ashleigh Barty, Arina Rodionova and Casey Dellacqua last month.
Moscow-raised Gavrilova might be expected to be used to used to the winter freeze but admitted to a little climate shock on arrival.
“It’s cold. It’s just really, really cold,” she told AAP.
“It was minus 15 yesterday and it’s minus 21 today.
“They said they were going to have the arena to around 18 degrees but it wasn’t there in practice. I think we’ve got to get them to turn the heaters up.”
Gavrilova, the world No.26, will lead the line up for Australia in Stosur’s absence.
The Fed Cup stalwart has made herself unavailable for national team duty for the first time in six years as she prepares for major early-season tournaments in the Middle East.
It’s a big change for the Australian team and thrusts Gavrilova into the hot-seat but the 22-year-old said she wasn’t feeling the pressure.
“I’ve only played one year with Sam so it’s not a big difference for me,” the naturalised Melburnian said.
“For others, it’s a change. But I’m just going to go out there and play. We’ll see.”
The challenge for singles nominees Gavrilova and Barty, the world No.156, will be significant.
World No.13 Elina Svitolina brings strong early-season form to the tie, including a title at last week’s Taiwan Open, where she was top-seeded.
Svitolina and Gavrilova, both 22, share a friendship dating back more than a decade on the junior circuit.
They’ve also met four times in the past 18 months, splitting the results 2-2.
“It’s going to be hard. I’ve beaten her and she’s beaten me,” Gavrilova said.
“We grew up together, played juniors all around the place, so I know how she plays.”
Lesia Tsurenko, the world No.54, has been nominated as Ukraine’s second singles player, ensuring rankings dominance for the home side.
As World Group II members, Australia cannot win the Fed Cup this year but a win in Kharkiv this weekend would give Molik’s team a playoff tie later this year to join the title-chasing eight-team World Group in 2018.