Stage Set for Fed Cup Fireworks

At home on clay, Italy will start as favorites against the United States in the Fed Cup final.

Published November 04, 2009 09:03

Stage Set for Fed Cup Fireworks
Francesca Schiavone

REGGIO CALABRIA, Italy - Two weeks ago they looked like the underdogs, however the withdrawal of Serena Williams means host nation Italy will now start favorite in this weekend's Fed Cup final against the United States. If the shoe is suddenly on the other foot as the teams gather in the 'toe' of the boot-shaped Italian peninsula, each player can at least draw confidence from the knowledge she helped get her team this far, against the odds.

Through to a third Fed Cup final in four years, Italy will be represented by Flavia Pennetta, who has sacrificed her place at the Commonwealth Bank Tournament of Champions in Bali this week, Francesca Schiavone, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. US captain Mary Joe Fernandez has named Melanie Oudin, Alexa Glatch, Liezel Huber and Vania King to her squad.

Italy's path to the final began with a 5-0 demolition of France in February, a result that left Amélie Mauresmo and Alizé Cornet reeling. Even less expected was the subsequent 4-1 dismantling of Russia in April's semifinals. Russia's policy of rotating its stars' appearances surely backfired - an out-of-form Anna Chakvetadze and green Anna Pavlyuchenkova struggled - but Schiavone's lion-hearted upset of Svetlana Kuznetsova was the turning point.

For its part, the US scraped past Argentina in the quarterfinals in Arizona, with Huber and Julie Ditty pocketing the decisive doubles. Against the Czech Republic in the semis it was again down to Huber and Bethanie Mattek-Sands to get the Americans over the line.

The good news for the visitors is that the Italians have never beaten the US in nine attempts, and indeed have won just three rubbers across those meetings. The bad news is the Italians outflank their rivals in ranking and experience, and will lap up the home crowds as well as the clay courts.

In terms of the likely singles line-ups, 28-year-old Pennetta is No.11 and 29-year-old Schiavone is No.16; 18-year-old Oudin is No.49 (two places below Italian No.3 Errani), 20-year-old King is No.79 and Glatch, also 20, is No.132.

But both sides can be optimistic. Since the last round, Pennetta has won titles at Palermo and Los Angeles and tasted life in the Top 10, while Schiavone recently clawed her way back into the Top 20 by winning the Kremlin Cup. On the other side of the net, Oudin showed her star quality with her breakthrough run to the last eight at the US Open; Glatch was the standout in the win over the Czechs in April - and routed Pennetta in the first round at Roland Garros. Huber, of course, has been the doubles co-world No.1 for two years.

The US has won the Fed Cup a record 17 times, but not since 2000. Italy is just one of four countries that has competed in every Fed Cup since the competition's inception. However it is only in recent years the Italians have punched above their weight, defeating a Justine Henin-led Belgium for the trophy in 2006 and finishing runner-up to a full-strength Russia in 2007. 

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