In the past, we used to say that the Russian "B" team--or even the "C" team, could challenge any Fed Cup team in the world. That was then, this is now. A combination of factors has reduced the Russian team to Alisa Kleybanova and backup support. Playing in the final will be Kleybanova (still creating her comeback, but definitely an asset), Alexandra Panova, Irina Khromacheva, and Margarita Gasparyan. Oh how far we have fallen.
Here's the deal: The Russian players aren't exactly thrilled with the Russian Tennis Federation. A few of them have made their feelings public. Daria Gavrilova went so far as to dare the federation to even ask her to play in the Fed Cup final, given what she claims was practically no support for her transition from juniors to the WTA Tour.
Maria Kirilenko, Elena Vesnina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova--all regular Fed Cup players--are competing at the Tournament of Champions in Sofia, which conflicts with the Fed Cup final, schedule-wise. Ekaterina Makarova and Maria Sharapova are both injured and unable to play. Svetlana Kuznetsova and Nadia Petrova--who knows?
Kirilenko, Vesnina and Pavlyuchenkova are, of course, free to choose to play in either venue. It is, however, most unfortunate that they have to choose. In this case, however, it might have been an easy choice for them, given the current complaints about the Russian Federation.
Italy's lineup has changed, too. Scheduled to play in the final are Sara Errani, Roberta Vinci, Flavia Pennetta (aka Queen of Fed Cup), and Karin Knapp. Camila Giorgi has disappeared from the player list, though she (and not Knapp) was originally supposed to play for Italy.
The final will be played on red clay in Sardinia. And while surprises are the order of the day in Fed Cup, Russia's journey is largely uphill. The final will take place November 2nd and 3rd.