USA might be the most successful nation in the history of Fed Cup by BNP Paribas but the home side has it all to do if it is to emerge victorious against reigning champion Italy in this weekend’s final.
Italy is unbeaten in its last six outings and goes into the tie full of confidence having defeated the Americans 4-0 in last year’s final on the clay of Reggio Calabria.
Not only was it the first time an Italian team had overcome American opposition in Fed Cup, but it also meant that Italy took control of the No. 1 ranking for the first time – a position it has yet to relinquish.
Road to San Diego
The Italians have made light work of their opponents in this year’s competition. Ukraine was dispatched 4-1 in the first round, before Czech Republic was whitewashed 5-0 in a performance that reiterated Italy’s strength in depth.
USA, on the other hand, has been forced to work hard to reach back-to-back finals for the first time since 1999-2000. And despite the presence of a home crowd at the San Diego Sports Arena, the odds are still firmly stacked in the visiting nation’s favour.
USA the underdog
In the absence of both Serena Williams and her sister, Venus, USA’s top-ranked singles player is Bethanie Mattek-Sands. The American is ranked lower in singles than all four of Italy’s nominated players.
USA captain Mary Joe Fernandez will be hoping Melanie Oudin can find the form that saw her shoot to fame at the 2009 US Open, where she reached the quarterfinals after defeating Elena Dementieva, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova in successive matches. How big a part US debutante Coco Vandeweghe is to play remains to be seen and it’s more likely that Fernandez nominated the 18-year-old Californian with one eye on the future.
Italy has already scored the first psychological blow in the run up to the final. Liezel Huber has been overtaken in the doubles rankings by Flavia Pennetta, who alongside Gisela Dulko won the season ending WTA Championships title in Doha at the weekend.
What’s more, Roberta Vinci has never lost a Fed Cup doubles rubber and is vying to join Indonesia’s Angelique Widjaja with the leading perfect doubles record of 16-0.
And let’s not forget Francesca Schiavone, who has had a stellar year winning her maiden Grand Slam title at Roland Garros. With Sara Errani most likely to be employed as back-up in the final, Italian captain Corrado Barazzutti truly had an embarrassment of riches from which to pick his team.
The Americans might be the outsiders on paper but this is Fed Cup. The form book can be thrown out the window and anything can happen when the players take to the indoor hard court in San Diego on Saturday.