Moscow: Maria Sharapova remained on course for the Rio Olympics as the five-time Grand Slam champion was on Friday named in Russia's doubles team for their Fed Cup first-round tie against the Netherlands in Moscow this weekend.
World number 31 Ekaterina Makarova will take on 106th-ranked Kiki Bertens in the opening singles of the World Group clash on the hardcourt of Moscow's Olympic indoor arena from 1100 GMT on Saturday. Russia's two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 17th in the world, will then face 141st-ranked Richel Hogenkamp.
In Sunday's reverse singles, Kuznetsova will face off against Bertens and Makarova will then take on Hogenkamp.
Russian team skipper Anastasia Myskina then announced the country's top-ranked player Sharapova, the world number six, will play in the tie's concluding doubles rubber alongside 18-year-old Darya Kasatkina.
They will face Dutch pair Arantxa Rus and Cindy Burger. Myskina, the 2004 French Open champion, said that she expected a tough match against the Dutch. "We've prepared well for this match but I expect a very tough opposition this weekend," Myskina told reporters following the draw.
"Netherlands were victorious in their last Fed Cup matches. They're in good form and brave mood. It's unlikely to be easy. But I hope we will do enough." Sharapova, who is struggling with a forearm injury suffered at last month's Australian Open, said she wasn't about to call time on her Fed Cup career.
"Our team is strong and any of our girls are capable of winning their rubbers," she said. "I don't know how long I will be able to play tennis but I will definitely continue to play for my country." The world's richest sportswoman will remain on course for this summer's Olympic Games even if she doesn't step out on court against the Netherlands.
Under qualification rules, a player must be nominated three times in an Olympic cycle in order to be eligible for the Games in Rio in August.
So far, the 28-year-old star has featured in just two ties since 2012, the year when she won the silver medal at the London Olympics.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF), which oversees the Fed Cup, said that Sharapova did not necessarily need to play the tie in order to fulfil her Olympic criteria.
"The Olympic tennis event qualification regulations require a player to be in the nominated Fed Cup team at the time of the draw on three occasions," a spokesman told AFP on the eve of the draw for the tie.
"A player does not need to play a match." Sharapova won all four Fed Cup rubbers she played in 2015 including the two singles matches in the final which Russia lost 3-2 to the Czech Republic.