It was a dreary day weather-wise in Reggio Calabria – dark clouds settled in over this Southern-most region of Italy overlooking the more famous locale of Sicily, and we even saw some rain.
But while the weather God was not cooperating on this Friday, the day of the draw, there is no need for concern. As far as the Fed Cup went, everything seemed sunny.
Our day started out riding over to the Palazzo Consigilio de la Regione – the rough translation is the Calabria Regional Council Building – for the draw ceremony. It was an interesting place and when you walked into the hall where the draw was taking place you thought it could have been a chamber in the United Nations. Minus, of course, the modernised version of a more traditional Italian mural that was dramatically the focus of the room.
Clearly, this was a hot ticket to have here in Reggio Calabria. The room was overflowing with spectators – some were tour regulars from the players, U.S. and Italian Federation staff, ITF representatives, and the international media. Others were not recognisable, but delighted in having this all-important Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final in their own backyard.
Pietrangeli - the silver fox of Davis Cup
As imagined, we had the dignitary speeches before the actual draw. Nicola Pietrangeli, a dignified and sharp-looking silver-haired Italian tennis hero, not to mention a former Grand Slam champion, acts as an unofficial ambassador for Italian tennis.
Pietrangeli, who played in more Davis Cup ties than anybody ever, drew a laugh when he offered good wishes to the U.S. team: “I wish you all good luck, but not too much.” Well, the gentleman receives props for being honest with his feelings!
Interestingly, the draw is a rather simple ceremony. A dignitary pulls one tennis ball with a player’s name on it out of the Fed Cup, literally, and the whole weekend falls into place. The first name out of the hat – Alexa Glatch, the No. 2 player on the U.S. squad – she would play the first match on Saturday against the Italian top player, Flavia Pennetta.
Melanie Oudin was placed into the second match against Francesca Schiavone. Sunday’s exceptionally full schedule opens with Pennetta and Oudin, followed by Schiavone and Glatch, and then the doubles match between Italians Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci against Liezel Huber and Vania King.
Question time and cuisine
The next step in the draw process is the official pictures, which always looks like a free-for-all from a perch watching. Every photographer wants the best shots to sell to their clients and there’s a lot of juggling and shifting going on.
After the photographers, it’s the scribes turn to have their time with the players. The Italians went first and addressed a number of issues, including the pressure of winning a second Fed Cup title for Italy, the pressure of trying to win the Fed Cup at home, etc, etc, etc.
The Americans went second and most of the line of questioning focused on whether the unheralded squad is ready to pull off the upset and take home an 18th Fed Cup crown to America.
When the whole affair broke up most people moved on to an excellent Italian buffet of antipasti that were delectable and dessert trays that were sinful. Oh, and yes, some nice Italian wine to complement the savouries and sweets.
Well, now that the scenes been painted and everyone wishes they could’ve been there, too (Hopefully, you feel almost like you were there from reading all about it), let’s look at the nitty-gritty of it all.
The heart and soul of it
Any which way you look at it – upside down, inside out – the Italians are in position to win. They have the more accomplished squad. They have the home court advantage. They have the red clay they favour. They have everything.
But it’s also hard to ignore that they have all the pressure to perform. And that can be a big weight to handle. In my opinion, while Pennetta is playing the top banana position, it’s Schiavone who is capable of being the stronger anchor of the team. Off the court, she comes across as rather impassive. But put a tennis racket in her hand and she is downright feisty.
As for the American team, well logic suggests they have little to no shot at all to pack up the Fed Cup and cart it off to America. But when it comes to team competitions, it’s the heart and soul of it, and not logic that can have the final say.
Melanie Oudin needs to have a good weekend, regardless of whether the U.S. wins it all. A strong finish to the season following her stunning U.S. Open quarterfinal showing would give her a psychological boost looking towards 2010. She knows she can beat the great players, but sometimes it’s harder to come through when you’re not facing former No. 1s, top five entrants, and all that jazz.
The great thing about Fed Cup is the unexpected can always happen. It’s hard not to anticipate the Italians reigning over the proceedings. But, hey, an Italian discovered America. It’s possible by the end of the weekend that the Italians might have preferred that Christopher Columbus stayed home.
ABOUT OUR BLOGGER...
Sandra, an American sportswriter for longer than she's willing to admit, has travelled the world to cover tennis for major publications, such as ESPN.com, The Miami Herald, and Associated Press. Her biggest problem of late is managing to pack worldwide purchases into suitcases and still meet the airline weight restrictions.