Tennis: Sharapova puts Russia in charge

Maria Sharapova (above) defeated Urszula Radwanska 6-0, 6-3 as Russia took a 2-0 lead over Poland in the Fed Cup World Group Saturday with the superstar taking a first step towards the Rio Olympics. -- PHOTO: AFP
Maria Sharapova (above) defeated Urszula Radwanska 6-0, 6-3 as Russia took a 2-0 lead over Poland in the Fed Cup World Group Saturday with the superstar taking a first step towards the Rio Olympics. -- PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - Maria Sharapova defeated Urszula Radwanska 6-0, 6-3 as Russia took a 2-0 lead over Poland in the Fed Cup World Group Saturday with the superstar taking a first step towards the Rio Olympics.

Svetlana Kuznetsova earlier saw off Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 in the tie at Krakow as four-time champions Russia edged closer towards the semi-finals.

French Open champion Sharapova is playing just her fourth Fed Cup tie since her 2008 debut but in order to make the Olympics next year all players have to make themselves available for the annual women's team tournament.

The world No. 2's win was also a perfect tonic coming a week after her defeat to Serena Williams in the Australian Open final.

Kuznetsova, a two-time Grand Slam champion, had already beaten the elder Radwanska sister in 10 of their 14 meetings.

Kuznetsova, playing her 17th Fed Cup tie, took victory with an ace on her first match point after two hours and 17 minutes.

Sunday's opening reverse singles will be between Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska with the Pole having to win to keep the tie alive.

Sharapova holds an 11-2 advantage in meetings between the two and has not lost to Radwanska since the Miami final in 2012.

"It was important to start strong. I had a little bit of a let down in the second set and she got a bit steadier," said Sharapova after hitting 30 winners in her 80-minute win.

"I'm happy to get through in straight sets."

In Genoa, 2013 champions Italy lead France 2-0.

Sara Errani defeated Caroline Garcia 7-6 (7/2), 7-5 to give Italy the lead.

Camila Giorgi, the world number 31, then made it 2-0 with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Alize Cornet, ranked 19th.

With their four Fed Cup crowns (2006, 2009, 2010, 2013), Italy, who are unbeaten at home since 2008, are firm favourites to make the semi-finals.

In Stuttgart, Australia got off to a good start against Germany as world No. 54 Jarmila Gajdosova beat 10th-ranked Angelique Kerber 4-6, 6-2, 6-4.

But the hosts levelled when Andrea Petkovic triumphed in a three-hour marathon with Samantha Stosur, winning 6-4, 3-6, 12-10.

"That is definitely one of the highlights of my career which I will keep in my mind," said Petkovic, a 2014 French Open semi-finalist, who was willed on by the vocal Stuttgart crowd.

"I spent half of the time trying to control my emotions. Fifty percent of the time I had goose-bumps because of the atmosphere."

The winners of the tie will face either Russia or Poland for a place in the final.

Italy or France will face either champions Czech Republic or Canada, who are meeting in Quebec, in the semi-finals.

In World Group II, meanwhile, the United States, a record 17-time champions, eased to a 2-0 lead over Argentina at Buenos Aires thanks to the Williams sisters.

Venus got things underway with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Paula Ormaechea before world No. 1 Serena defeated Maria Irigoyen, a lowly 197 in the rankings, 7-5, 6-0.