Madison Keys returns to Roberta Vinci, of Italy, during the Miami Open tennis tournament in Key Biscayne, Fla., Sunday, March 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Alan Diaz
April 15, 2016

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) This Fed Cup World Group playoff was always going to be a little bit different, so the quirky draw on an artificial beach in sub-tropical Brisbane set the scene for the first match in three decades between the United States and Australia in this competition.

Serena and Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens aren't in this U.S. team, so No. 25-ranked Madison Keys takes the No. 1 singles spot and will open the playoff on a clay court at Pat Rafter Arena on Saturday against Daria Gavrilova, who is ranked 39th and is playing her first Fed Cup match for Australia.

No. 57 Christina McHale was picked for the No. 2 singles spot for the U.S. on Friday to take on the top Australian Sam Stosur, who reached the French Open final in 2010 and won the 2011 U.S. Open. Reverse singles and the doubles are on Sunday.

The selection of McHale over No. 36 Coco Vandeweghe was a slight surprise by U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez, who said the court surface and the opposition were factors in the decision.

The draw to determine the order of play took place at Streets Beach on the Southbank in Brisbane, with Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Natalie Cook winning a mini-triathlon with a diving finish for a post with Keys' name on it - meaning the leading American took the honors of playing the opening match.

The U.S. has an 8-5 lead in head-to-heads against Australia. Ten of the first 11 Fed Cup meetings between the two countries were in finals, and the last time they met was in a World Group semifinal in Japan in 1985.

All the other leading Fed Cup matches are being played in Europe this weekend, including the Switzerland vs. Czech Republic and France vs. Netherlands World Group semifinals. Russia, Spain and Romania are hosting the other World Group playoffs against Belarus, Italy and Germany.

The long trip to Australia was a factor in the absences of the Williams sisters and Stephens, who were here in January for the first major of the season.

Vandeweghe said the U.S. had a strong enough team to make up for it.

''Not everyone gets picked every single time,'' she said. ''When your name does get called, that's when you're supposed to show up ... and do the best for your country. We all play under USA. I don't think it's one individual player that makes a tie.''

Australia captain Alicia Molik said McHale's selection in singles demonstrated the strength of the U.S. team.

''They've got the luxury of spreading the load,'' Molik said. ''It's going to be long, extended tennis on the clay courts, it's quite demanding. I imagine they're just quite conscious of sharing the load between the players.''

Regardless, home crowd advantage and recent form have Molik feeling confident.

''We've worked incredibly hard to be in this position and we believe we belong in the World Group,'' Molik said.

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