Italy’s position at the head of women’s team tennis was duly confirmed at the Foro Italico in Rome as Flavia Pennetta beat a late replacement for Czech Republic – Petra Kvitova – 76(3) 62 in the first of the reverse singles, sealing their place in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final for a fourth time in the last five years.
The defending champions now wait on the outcome of the USA v Russia semifinal in Birmingham, Alabama to discover who their opponent will be, and they say they have no preferences. What they do know is that they will be away from home whoever it is and Corrado Barazzutti, their captain, warned: “It’s difficult for every team in the world [to beat us]."
Italy could even afford to rest Francesca Schiavone for the fourth rubber, promoting Sara Errani in her place. Ranked 36 in the world, she won 64 62 against Lucie Hradecka – Italy’s strength in depth must be the envy of every country in the world bar Russia. And in completing a comprehensive 5-0 victory, Schiavone and Errani won the doubles, beating Hradecka and Kveta Peschke 62 64.
“It’s something unbelievable,” said Barazzutti, who knows what it takes to reach the pinnacle of team competition, having been a part of the only Italian team to win the Davis Cup, in 1976. “It’s another great result - it’s a great team.”
The crowd at Stadio Nicola Pietrangeli gave them typically passionate support as the sun finally came out with a vengeance to shine brightly upon the Italian team, who celebrated wildly to the appropriately chosen Black Eyed Peas number Tonight’s Gonna Be A Good Night. It was certain to be so.
But Pennetta, the Italian No.1 by dint of just two ranking places ahead of teammate Francesca Schiavone, needed that support in the first set as she found another player from outside the world’s Top 50 who was ready to test her mettle.
“I was really nervous because everybody expected this point but I did my best and tried to fight from the beginning to the end – and here we are in the Final again,” said Pennetta.
Late sub feels nerves
It was a bitter blow for Czech Republic to lose their No. 1 Lucie Safarova on the morning of the match through injury as she held a 2-0 lead in head-to-heads against Pennetta, albeit that both wins were on hard court.
“Unfortunately she hurt her shoulder during the warm-up for her match and was feeling it during any shots, including serve, forehand, so we had to make a quick decision and just before the deadline we put Petra Kvitova in,” said Petr Pala, Czech Republic’s captain.
“That wasn’t the game plan. The game plan was to play Kvitova against Schiavone. She didn’t really play well against Pennetta in previous matches so we didn’t really want to play her – her game suits Pennetta’s game, but she put up a great fight.
“We knew we couldn’t beat them easily, we were just hoping to get them to the decisive doubles, but after Francesca’s performance [against Safarova] it was hard to overcome such a strong team at home on clay.”
With such a late call-up it was inevitable that nerves would affect Kvitova’s game initially. But this tall, young left-hander has proved before she can play on clay, reaching the fourth round of the French Open two years ago so there was an indication that this might not be the formality it appeared. As we know, there are no formalities in Fed Cup.
This time it was Pennetta, looking much happier in the sunshine than the rain, who galloped into a 4-1 first-set lead, just as Lucie Hradecka had done against her twice the day before. When a perfectly judged lob landed just inside the baseline to put her 5-2 up, we anticipated that the Czech challenge was about to crumble.
Kvitova fights back
Not so. Suddenly the 20-year-old Kvitova’s nerves settled down and she began to hurt the world No. 15 with her double-handed backhand in much the same way as Hradecka’s had done for much of her match against the Italian.
But it wasn’t exactly the same. This time Pennetta was not rattled by her opponent’s power and her forehand was in fine form as were her overheads.
Still, Kvitova’s punishing ground strokes saw her break back to love before a confident hold took us into a tiebreak. It was developing into an unexpectedly exciting rubber and the tiebreak continued in the same vein.
Pennetta was broken on the opening point but broke back before an overrule by Louise Engzell, the Swedish umpire, gave her the chance to forge ahead on the Kvitova serve and then break her again as the Czech girl’s forehand betrayed her. Sadly for Kvitova – though not for the crowd – a double fault handed Pennetta the set.
Pennetta’s class eventually shows
Once ahead, Pennetta, a smart player, made her class tell and the Czech challenge eventually did dissolve.
“It was very tough after the tiebreak because I was thinking about it,” said Kvitova. “I made a good start [in the second set] but I don’t know what happened after that.”