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22 October 2010

Italy's road to San Diego


NEWS ARTICLE

Francesca Schiavone (ITA)

Italy will be hoping for a repeat result of the last year’s Final when it travels to San Diego in November as the defending Fed Cup by BNP Paribas champion.

USA and Italy are meeting for the second successive year to decide the destination of the trophy, and the visitors will draw strength from the 4-0 victory on clay in Reggio Calabria in 2009.

That was Italy’s only ever win against the Americans, with the head-to-head score now standing at 9-1. USA has home advantage this time and has selected to host the tie on an indoor hard court.

History may lean towards the Americans, but recent form makes the Italians favourite. USA has battled past France and Russia in this year’s campaign, while Italy has lost just one rubber on its way to victories over Ukraine and Czech Republic.

Pennetta leads Italian fight back

Italy’s title defence didn’t begin as planned against Ukraine in Kharkiv, as Francesca Schiavone was comprehensively beaten 61 64 by Alona Bondarenko in the opening rubber.

Order was soon restored, however, with Flavia Pennetta levelling the scores by claiming a 75 63 victory over Kateryna Bondarenko, the younger of the Ukrainian sisters.

In the battle of the No. 1s, Pennetta continued her impressive form to dismiss Alona Bondarenko 75 76(3). The Ukrainian was left to reflect on a number of missed opportunities, including serving for both sets at 5-4 in the first and 6-5 in the second.

Schiavone then put her opening day defeat behind her to wrap the tie up for the Italians, coming from behind to win 26 61 61 against Kateryna Bondarenko.

In the fifth rubber, Roberta Vinci continued her remarkable Fed Cup doubles run by teaming up with Sara Errani to defeat Mariya Koryttseva and Viktoria Kutuzova 61 63. Since making her debut in 2001, the Italian has compiled a perfect 15-0 win-loss record.

“Really, Ukraine is one of the best teams in the world,” said Corrado Barazzutti, Italy’s delighted captain. “The Bondarenkos are two great players and that is a really important victory for us.”

Whitewash win confirms Italian dominance

Italy’s semifinal tie against Czech Republic, being played at the Foro Italico in Rome, always threatened to be a one-sided affair and so it proved, but only after another slow start.

Pennetta got the ball rolling this time and was expected to sweep aside her lower ranked opponent, Lucie Hradecka. The Czech player didn’t read the script and led 4-1 in each set, only for Pennetta to dig deep and record a 64 75 win.

The second rubber, which saw Schiavone take on Lucie Safarova, had the potential to be closer, but the Italian was in fine form and dismissed the visiting No. 1 60 62 to put the home team firmly in the driving seat.

The responsibility fell on Pennetta to complete victory in Sunday’s opening rubber and she duly obliged, winning 76(3) 62 against Petra Kvitova, a late stand-in for the injured Safarova.

The Czech challenge looked over when Pennetta led 5-2 in the first set, but Kvitova battled back bravely to force a tiebreak. However, an untimely double fault on set point handed the Italian the advantage and she never looked back.

Errani got in on the action in the dead rubbers, as she overcame Hradecka 64 62 before partnering Schiavone to defeat Hradecka and Peschke 62 64. The 5-0 score line was a fair reflection on the tie, as Italy reiterated its position as Fed Cup’s top team.

The next challenge for Italy is to retain the title for the first time, with USA standing in the way of this landmark feat.

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