Rookies, Italians Shine in Fed Cup Semis

The main surprise from the first day's play in this weekend's Fed Cup semifinals and play-offs is that Russia trails Italy 0-2.

Published April 25, 2009 12:00

Rookies, Italians Shine in Fed Cup Semis
Alexa Glatch

For the first time since they played Belgium in Madrid in 2001, Russia has lost the opening two rubbers of a Fed Cup match to trail Italy after the first day's play of their semifinal at Castellaneta Marina. Meantime, in the Czech Republic's second city, Brno, proceedings are evenly poised in the team competition's other semi, with the hosts notching one win for one loss against the visiting US side.

For years, Russia has maintained a policy of rotating its top stars for Fed Cup duty. Given that the team has won 15 of its last 16 ties - and indeed lifted the trophy in four of the past five years - it's been hard to argue with the stance.

On the downside, the powerhouse nation arrived in Italy minus both its Top 3 stars, Dinara Safina and Elena Dementieva, and when sixth-ranked Vera Zvonareva withdrew at the last minute with injury, the gap between the two sides started to close. Svetlana Kuznetsova, a Fed Cup trouper to be sure, moved into her country's No.1 slot, while captain Shamil Tarpischev made 22nd-ranked Anna Chakvetadze his No.2 - ahead of world No.10 Nadia Petrova.

With a win and a runner-up finish to boast of in recent years, Italy has a habit of punching above its weight in Fed Cup, and the team got off to a flying start when world No.14 Flavia Pennetta made light work of Chakvetadze, 60 64. If that result wasn't a surprise, Francesca Schiavone's subsequent three set defeat of Kuznetsova was less expected. But, as Italian captain Corrado Barazzutti said after the 28-year-old's 16 62 63 triumph, "Francesca is a player made for this competition."

Things didn't exactly work out as planned in Brno either. First, Czech No.2 Petra Kvitova scored a minor upset over Fed Cup debutante Bethanie Mattek-Sands - the American No.1 in a Williams-less universe - 63 76(2). Then the other Fed Cup rookie from the US, world No.114 Alexa Glatch, dismantled No.29 Iveta Benesova with surprising ease, 61 62.

The hotly-contested World Group Play-offs also produced their share of surprises on Saturday.

In Limoges, Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova came from behind to beat French teen Alizé Cornet for the first time in the pair's last four outings, before Amelie Mauresmo leveled the tie by beating Dominika Cibulkova, having fallen to the 19-year-old three times in the last 12 months.

In Frankfurt, in-form Sabine Lisicki gave Germany the early lead by defeating China's Top 20 star, Zheng Jie, 64 26 64; Anna-Lena Groenefeld subsequently overcame Peng Shuai, 46 64 62, to put the hosts 2-0 up.

As expected, Alona Bondarenko and Mariya Koryttseva prevailed against lowly-ranked Argentine opponents, Maria Irigoyen and Jorgelina Cravero, respectively - although Koryttseva had to toil for three hours on the clay court at Mar del Plata.

And in Lleida, Spain, Ana Ivanovic - playing her first match on clay since winning the French Open last June - looked totally out of sorts in the opening set of her match against Anabel Medina Garrigues, but recovered to put Serbia ahead 2-0. Earlier, Jelena Jankovic had beaten María José Martínez Sánchez in straight sets. One more win in the reverse singles on Sunday and Serbia will secure a place in the Fed Cup World Group for the first time.

In World Group II Play-offs, Samantha Stosur and Jelena Dokic have given Australia a 2-0 lead over Switzerland; Aleksandra Wozniak and Yanina Wickmayer scored wins to leave Canada and Belgium locked at 1-1; and Kaia Kanepi and Shahar Peer also won as expected to leave Estonia and Israel at loggerheads after day one. Agnieszka Radwanska beat Japan's Akiko Morigami, but her younger sister Urszula was no match for the experienced Ai Sugiyama, so Poland and Japan are also  even heading into day two.

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