MOSCOW -- U.S. Open semifinalist Anna Chakvetadze will open Russia's bid for its third Fed Cup title, facing Italy's No. 1 Francesca Schiavone in the opening singles on Saturday.
Second-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2004 U.S. Open champion
and runner-up this year, on Friday drew Mara Santangelo in the second singles match on the hard court at Luzhniki Indoor arena.
Russia, with three players ranked in the top 10, is favored to beat defending champion Italy.
"I think we do not have many chances [to win], this is true,"
Schiavone said. "But we believe in our team, in ourselves and we are focused and will try to win."
Italy defeated Belgium to win its first Fed Cup title last season. Russia is unbeaten in three matches against Italy, and won the Fed Cup title in 2004 and 2005.
"According to statistics we are a cut above them," said eighth-ranked Nadia Petrova, who will pair with Elena Vesnina to face Santangelo and Roberta Vinci in doubles on Sunday. "Francesca is a very persistent player. She fights till the very end and will be the most difficult opponent for us."
The 25th-ranked Schiavone played a part in all three points when
Italy beat France 3-2 in the semifinals in July. She has a 14-9 record in the Fed Cup since 2002.
Maria Sharapova will be cheering on Russia. She was invited to practice with the Fed Cup team this week, but will not play because of a lingering shoulder injury.
Fifth-ranked Chakvetadze won four WTA Tour titles this season and reached her first career Grand Slam semifinal last week. She joined the Russian team last fall and has a 3-2 record.
"So far I'm not nervous," Chakvetadze said. "I'll try to play my best."
Chakvetadze is 2-1 against Schiavone with her last win on grass in June at the Ordina Open in the Netherlands.
Kuznetsova, who beat Chakvetadze in the U.S. Open semifinal, is 8-3 in the Fed Cup and will be playing in her second final. When Russia beat France for its first title in 2004, Kuznetsova lost both of her singles matches.
Sunday's reverse singles will pit Kuznetsova against Schiavone, followed by Chakvetadze against Santangelo.