Fed Cup Barty about to crank up in Brissy
Ash Barty has been backed to bring home the chocolates at Easter, with Brisbane chosen to host the Fed Cup tennis semi-final against Belarus.
Tennis Australia has chosen the hardcourt surface at Rafter Arena to be used for the tie, three years after it constructed a claycourt there for a loss to the United States.
Queenslanders Barty, ranked No. 12 in the world, Priscilla Hon (142) and Kim Birrell (157) joined Melbourne's Daria Gavrilova (53) in the team which won in the US last month.
Australia will be seeking to make a Fed Cup final for the first time since 1993 at the April 20-21 semi-final against Belarus, which has three top-50 players, in pursuit of the country's first championship in 45 years.
Barty won all six sets she played against the US in two singles matches, and one doubles encounter with debutant Hon, when Australia prevailed 3-2 to make their first Cup semi-final since 2014.
But Australia will likely start as rankings underdogs if Belarus are able to field their quarter-final line-up of Aryna Sabalenka, ranked ninth, world No. 34 Aliaksandra Sasnovich, and dual Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, ranked No. 48. After the euphoria of their Fed Cup week, 20-year-olds Hon and Birrell have returned to WTA qualifying.
Hon was ousted in the first round of qualifying twice but on Wednesday beat two seeds to reach the main draw of this week's rich Indian Wells event.
"Belarus has a group of incredibly strong players and we expect them to be tough, but we also know we'll have terrific support from the fans and look forward to a great turnout in Brisbane," Australian team captain Alicia Molik said.
The Fed Cup tie was secured for Rafter Arena by the State Government, Tennis Australia and Brisbane Marketing.
State Tourism Minister Kate Jones emphasised the government's support of women's tennis last month when prioritising financial support of the women's Brisbane International, rather than seeking sudden-death ties for the men's ATP Cup in Australia.
"Off the back of an inspiring win against the USA, we couldn't ask for a finer group of role models than our current Fed Cup team and I know our strong tennis community and sports fans alike will be keen to come and support them in their quest for a place in the world group final,'' Tennis Queensland CEO Mark Handley said.
"It's particularly special to be given the opportunity to host this tie in Brisbane, given the recent success of our Queensland players who featured so significantly in the win against the USA and across the Aussie summer."
Both Australia and Belarus will fancy their chances of winning the title, with powerhouse nation the Czech Republic eliminated from a half of the draw which has Romania and France remaining.