Paris, Feb 6: Maria Sharapova leads Russia in their Fed Cup World Group opener against Poland this weekend looking to take a step closer to the 2016 Olympics.
It will be the first meeting between the two countries and a rare Fed Cup appearance by 2012 Olympic silver medallist Sharapova, who must compete in the women's team event if she wants to bid for gold in Rio next year.
The Russian star, runner-up to Serena Williams at the Australian Open last Saturday, has played just three ties for Russia since her 2008 debut and has a 3-1 singles record.
Champions the Czech Republic open their defence against Canada in Quebec City, as 2014 runners-up Germany host Australia in Stuttgart and France travel to play Italy, last year's semi-finalists, in Genoa.
The hardcourt clash on Saturday and Sunday at Krakow Arena will see 27-year-old Sharapova return to Fed Cup for the first time since February 2012.
Attention will also be focussed on her new team captain Anastasia Myskina, who a decade ago threatened to pull out of the Russian team if Sharapova was selected.
Myskina, the first Russian woman to win a Grand Slam at Roland Garros in 2004, the year she spearheaded their first Fed Cup victory, retired as a player in 2007 and took over the Fed Cup captaincy in 2014. AFP