After qualifying for the World Group in 2018 the Australian team was drawn to face the USA in the opening round.
This year, the USA is bidding to reach a third consecutive final having increased their title record to 18 with a win over Belarus in 2017, and losing to the Czech Republic last year.
USA hosts Australia on an indoor hardcourt at US Cellular Arena, Asheville, USA.
The opening rubber sees world no. 37 Sofia Kenin represents the USA against Australia’s world no. 13 Ashleigh Barty.
Next up is world no. 17 Madison Keys against Kimberly Birrell who is ranked at no. 157.
Both captains have not gone on rankings to select their singles lineups. The USA could have called on Danielle Collins who jumped up to no. 23 after reaching the semifinals at the Australian Open. Australia has Daria Gavrilova the world no. 47. Collins is being rested on the first day due to illness earlier in the week.
It makes sense to use Birrell ahead of Gavrilova as the higher ranked player is yet to win a match in 2019 where Birrell reached the third round at the Australian Open.
“I feel like I’ve had an awesome last month or so, few weeks,” Birrell said. “Six months really, I feel like I’ve been playing at a consistent level day in, day out. I think I really proved to myself, mainly, that this is the level I want to be at.”
“We’re going to take it one match at a time and not underestimate anybody,” USA’s captain Kathy Rinaldi told press before the tie. “We’re going to go out there, compete. We’re going to be a strong team, have each other’s backs, leave it all out on the court. That’s all I can ask as the captain.”
Australian Open semifinalist Danielle Collins will have a day off on Saturday due to feeling “under the weather” earlier in the week.
“Feeling fine now,” she assured reporters. “Hopefully this will give me another day of recovery and be ready to go on Sunday. I had a great start to the year. Hope that I can help contribute to the team in every way possible. Yeah, just grateful to have a healthy start to the year, to have had a good run in Australia.”
Based on recent form you would expect to see a 1-1 result come from the first days play with Barty defeating Kenin and Keys getting the better of Birrell. But the pressure of performing for your country can affect players in different ways, some crumble under the pressure, while others thrive.
Barty stood tall in 2018 as she won all of her singles matches and teamed up with Casey Dellacqua in the deciding doubles match against Ukraine a year ago.
“It would be amazing,” said Australian captain Alicia Molik, of the possibility of coming away from this weekend with a win. “We want that reward because we’ve worked so hard the last four or five years to get back to the World Group. We feel, and we believe, that we are a team good enough to be there consistently.
“We want to leave everything out on the court. We don’t want to leave Asheville with any regrets.”