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Due to 'prior agreement,' Russia expects Sharapova for Fed Cup final

4/27/2008 - Tennis

MOSCOW -- Defending champion Russia will recall
Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova for the Fed Cup final
against Spain in September, the Russia captain said on Sunday.

"I had a prior agreement with Sharapova for her to play in
the final," Shamil Tarpishchev told Reuters after his team beat
the United States 3-2 in their semifinal in Moscow to book a
place in the final for the fourth time in five years.

"Of course, it all could change by September with injuries
or lost form but at least for now, she is in the team."

The Florida-based Sharapova made her long-awaited Fed Cup
debut against Israel in February and won both of her singles
matches to lead Russia to a 4-1 quarterfinal victory.

The world
No. 3 was given permission to skip the
semifinal, with world No. 4 Svetlana Kuznetsova leading
the home team against the Americans.

Tarpishchev said the Russians would bring their strongest
team to Spain, who overcame China 4-1 in the other semifinal.

"We should have both Sharapova and Kuznetsova in the
lineup. I might even have them play doubles together," he said.

"I must say I was a bit surprised to see Spain beat China in
Beijing, but as far as our team is concerned it doesn't really
matter who we play in the final. We're still the favorites."

Tarpishchev paired Kuznetsova with Elena Vesnina for the doubles match against the United States.

"I'm trying various combinations not only for the Fed Cup
but also keeping in mind the Beijing Olympics," he said.

"I just want to see what's working and what's not."

Sharapova and Kuznetsova had been at odds, talking openly
about their dislike for each other in the past, but have since
patched up their differences.

Kuznetsova, who spends much of her time in Barcelona and
speaks fluent Spanish, was asked whether she would rather have
faced China than Spain.

"Well, you always want to play the final in front of the
home fans and if we faced China we would have played in Moscow,
but Spain is like a second home to me so I don't mind playing
there either," she said.