PALERMO, ITALY: It would have been a worthy final for the 50th anniversary of the competition. The two leading teams of recent years – one the champion three times in five years, the other unbeaten in three years since it last played against its opponents this weekend. In the context of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas, Italy v Czech Republic is the clash of the titans.
Having struggled for over two decades to reproduce the form that gave the old Czechoslovakia five Federation Cup titles (as the competition was then known), the Czech Republic has eased effortlessly into a golden era. The champions in 2011 and 2012, the Czechs’ last defeat came three years ago next week, when the Italians beat them on the clay of the Foro Italico in Rome.
Since then the Italians have travelled to Ostrava and lost, so everything is set for a wonderful battle in the Sicilian sunshine as the Italians bring the Czech Republic onto the red clay of Palermo.
For the Czechs, there are no selection issues following Klara Zakapalova’s withdrawal due to an allergic reaction. The Czech captain Petr Pala brought five players to Palermo, but had nominated Zakopalova in a singles-heavy team at the expense of the doubles specialist Andrea Hlavackova. But the decision about whether to confirm Hlavackova’s absence was taken away from Pala when Zakapalova, who suffers from allergies, came down with a reaction to something that normally doesn’t bother her until June. It means the Czechs have two obvious singles players in Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova, and a specialist doubles team of Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka.
The Italian team sees a reunion of the four players who won Italy’s three titles from 2006 to 2010, but with a shift in the balance of power.
Then, Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta were the leading players, with Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci the back-up team and specialist doubles pair. With Errani having reached the French Open final last year and Vinci having posted her best results in 2012, Italy’s captain Corrado Barazzutti had to decide whether to go with the rankings or whether to put in the experienced Schiavone against the big-hitting Kvitova on the opening day.
In the end he opted for the diminutive Vinci to try out her nagging slice against the former Wimbledon champion, not really a surprising decision given that Vinci beat the eighth-ranked Czech 76(2) 61 on the clay of Katowice last week. But with Vinci the world’s top-ranked doubles player, and she and Errani the ITF world doubles champions for 2012, it’s quite possible Schiavone or Pennetta could be called in for singles duty on Sunday if Italy wants to keep its top doubles pairing fresh for a possible decisive fifth rubber.
With the world No. 7 Errani opening against the 25th-ranked Safarova, the draw could favour Italy if the French Open runner-up can get off to a good start. But she doesn’t like reference to her run to the Roland Garros final.
“The French Open is done,” she said, “it’s closed, now is a new year. I don’t want to think about the memories from last year, I just want to play. I like clay, and I’m happy to start my claycourt season here in Palermo.”
Despite Errani and Vinci’s record in doubles, Schiavone and Pennetta have been provisionally named to play on Sunday, leaving a nominated line-up of:
R1: Sara Errani (ITA) v Lucie Safarova (CZE)
R2: Roberta Vinci (ITA) v Petra Kvitova (CZE)
R3: Sara Errani (ITA) v Petra Kvitova (CZE)
R4: Roberta Vinci (ITA) v Lucie Safarova (CZE)
R5: Flavia Pennetta/Francesca Schiavone (ITA) v Andrea Hlavackova/Lucie Hradecka (CZE)
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Captain Corrado Barazzutti (ITA) - 19/04/13
Sara Errani (ITA) - 19/04/13
Petra Kvitova (CZE) - 19/04/13
Captain Petr Pala (CZE) - 19/04/13
Lucie Safarova (CZE) - 19/04/13
Roberta Vinci (ITA) - 19/04/13