CLEVELAND, USA: While a country always believes having a Fed Cup by BNP Paribas home tie is a major advantage it doesn’t always work out that way.
This weekend at the Public Auditorium in Cleveland, Ohio, the USA couldn’t stop the reigning champions Italy from sticking to their winning ways. So after three rubbers played it was Italy, proudly boasting a 3-0 insurmountable lead in this Fed Cup quarterfinal tie, that was running around the court waving an Italian flag in victory.
“I think it means a lot because I think we won against a really tough, tough team,” said Karin Knapp, after she beat Alison Riske 63 75 to give Italy the third point on Sunday. “They were all high ranked. We won here in America. Winning out of home, it's never easy.
“Yeah, we had some support of Italy, too, so it was really nice. I think it's a great win for us because we came here without our top players. Yeah, we are really happy about this.”
Italy took charge the moment they hit the courts, winning both of their matches on Saturday to leave the arena with a 2-0 lead. Karin Knapp dispensed of Christina McHale 63 36 61 in Saturday’s first rubber, and then Camila Giorgi and Madison Keys, both playing their first Fed Cup matches, took to the court. Giorgi needed all of an hour to bypass Keys 62 61.
On Sunday, there were three matches left to play, that is if USA could mount a comeback. History was against the home team as in 10 previous attempts to overcome a 0-2 deficit since the World Group came into being in 1995 the USA had never accomplished that feat.
USA captain Mary Joe Fernandez, who has spent the last dozen years living in Cleveland, decided on switching out the 37th-ranked Keys for the 46th-ranked Alison Riske in the third rubber against Italy.
“I found out last evening after all the matches were finished,” said Riske, of when Fernandez told her she’d be playing. “I was so excited to come out. Obviously, it was a big-pressure match as I was trying to win to keep America alive. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do so.
"But it was a great experience. I actually felt extremely comfortable out there. I just felt like Knapp played exceptionally well.”
Riske wasn’t intimidated by Knapp, but as hard as she tried she couldn’t put the USA on the board.
In the first set, Riske fell behind 4-1 but kept fighting. She broke Knapp’s serve when she was serving for the set at 5-1. But at 5-3, Knapp nailed down the first set at 40-15 when Riske sailed a backhand long.
In the second set, Knapp served for the match in the eighth game with a 5-2 lead, and in the tenth game with a 5-4 lead, but was unable to close out the tie in Italy’s favor on those opportunities.
Riske stepped up in both the eighth and 10th games to break Knapp’s serve. In the eighth game Riske broke serve at 0-40 with a screeching backhand service return. In the 10th game at 30-30, Knapp double faulted and then watched a winning backhand return go by as the score went to 5-5.
“It's not easy because she came back,” Knapp said. “I get a little bit nervous. I get a little bit of emotion. A t the end, the last game, I served again better. I think this was the key.”
Unfortunately, Riske never had a game point on her own serve in the 11th game. She surrendered the game on a second break point with a forehand error.
Riske’s losing her serve in that 11th game put Knapp at 6-5 and in position to serve out the match for a third time in the second set. This time Knapp did not squander her chance to seal the tie in favor of Italy. A winning forehand at 40-0 and Italy had won the Fed Cup quarterfinal.
So for the third straight year the USA awaits word who they will face in the World Group play-off in April.
And Italy awaits word on whether it will be Spain or the Czech Republic they take on in the semifinals.
In a meaningless doubles match, Cleveland native Lauren Davis teamed with Keys to play Italians Nastassja Burnett and Alice Mateucci.
Italy has won the Fed Cup title on four occasions — hence the four stars on their warm-up suits. And it is current captain Corrado Barazzutti who has led the team to victory in 2009 and 2010 against USA in the final, and in 2013 sent Russia packing to take home the Cup.
To close out the weekend, Cleveland native Lauren Davis teamed with Madison Keys against Italy’s Nastassa Burnett and Alice Matteucci.
Captain Mary Joe Fernandez (USA)