PARIS: Maria Sharapova beat Urszula Radwanska 6-0, 6-3 as Russia took a 2-0 lead over Poland in the Fed Cup World Group on 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 closed in on a semi-final spot.
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 number two’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.
Playing her 17th Fed Cup tie, Kuznetsova 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 letdown 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 number 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.
“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 the champions Czech Republic or Canada, who are meeting in Quebec.
Despite missing Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, the Czechs went 2-0 up when Karolina Pliskova and Tereza Smitkova won their openers.
Pliskova, the world number 22, eased past 230th-ranked Francoise Abanda 6-2, 6-4 who was drafted into the squad when top 10 star Eugenie Bouchard opted not to play.
Smitkova, ranked 62nd, downed Canada’s 185th-ranked Gabriela Dabrowski 6-1, 6-2 in only 59 minutes.
In World Group II, meanwhile, the United States, a record 17-time champions, eased to a 2-0 lead over Argentina in Buenos Aires thanks to the Williams sisters.