Italy’s record in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas is beyond reproach. As they say in football, ‘league tables don’t lie’.
Italy are not only clear leaders in the standings, but have been the most successful country in women’s tennis in the last five years, as four appearances in the Final during that time would suggest. But the crowning achievement for them, surely, would be to win away from home against a full-strength USA team.
Italy won last year’s Final against the Americans emphatically enough, 4-0, but that was at home and, of course, in the absence of the Williams sisters, who have not played Fed Cup for three years. That isn’t the Italians fault, though, they can only beat what is placed in front of them.
If Venus and Serena are unavailable in November, Mary Joe Fernandez’s side will probably be the same as last year, with the exception of Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the No. 2 singles spot in place of Alexa Glatch.
More crucially, the meeting this time will almost certainly be on an indoor hard court rather than the clay on which the Italians revel. The problem Team USA is that the Italians are such good all rounders – clay just happens to be their preferred surface.
Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone have both reached a couple of finals on hard courts in the last eight months, winning one and losing the other. But more importantly, they have superior head-to-head records against Melanie Oudin, while Pennetta also leads Mattek-Sands 4-1.
Italy has the archetypal Fed Cup team: two fine singles players, who are separated by just two places in the rankings at No. 15 and No. 17, and a dedicated doubles team in Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, who play regularly and successfully together on Tour.
However, the American Liezel Huber, a four-time Grand Slam champion, is vastly more experienced than either and is developing a keen understanding with Mattek-Sands, having won three rubbers out of three together. That is one match that is bound to be close.
Only Russia has greater strength in depth than Italy. As well as that they have a great team spirit, the hallmark of all good Fed Cup and Davis Cup teams. “When we are with Italy we feel more, we want to do more,” explained Errani. “Also, we are a good team but also to be happy to be with the country and feel it and do all we can.”
Another quality of Corrado Barazzutti’s team, which was evident in their 5-0 semifinal win against Czech Republic in Rome, was that when either Pennetta or Schiavone are playing badly, the other is invariably playing well. Pennetta struggled in both her matches yet won, while Schiavone was in peerless form against Czech No. 1 Lucie Safarova, who could do nothing to contain a player she had beaten before.
In the previous round against Ukraine, it was Schiavone who was at odds with her game and Pennetta who came to the rescue. That suggests a team of players who are all pulling in the same direction – a recipe for Fed Cup success if ever there was