World No. 5 and Australian Open champion Maria Sharapova leads Russia against Israel in the Fed Cup team tennis competition starting Saturday in Ramat Hasharon, Israel.
Sharapova has never played Fed Cup before but did work with last year's team in Moscow. A shoulder injury kept her off the courts as the Russians beat Italy, 4-0.
Dinara Safina of Russia opens the best-of-five match series against world No. 17 Shahar Peer of Israel. Sharapova will play Tzipi Obziler in the second singles match.
Italy starts this year's Fed Cup at home against Spain. Francesca Schiavone will play the opening match against Nuria Llagostera Vives.
The U.S. team, featuring veteran Lindsay Davenport, plays Germany in La Jolla, California. Since her debut with the team in 1993, Davenport has a 31-2 record in Fed Cup play.
The last World Group series has China hosting France in Beijing. The French are without former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo, Wimbledon runner-up Marion Bartoli and Tatiana Golovin.
The doubles and the reverse singles are Sunday. This week's winners will meet in the Fed Cup semifinals in April. The Fed Cup final is in September.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.