Looking at the form book, Italy and USA will both be in a confident mood ahead of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final, taking place in Reggio Calabria on 7/8 November.
Italians look to maintain momentum
Flavia Pennetta, the Italian No. 1, has enjoyed the best form of her career in 2009. In the last few months, she has reached the US Open quarterfinals and won back-to-back titles in Palermo and Los Angeles, helping her rise to a career high world ranking of No. 10.
Francesca Schiavone, meanwhile, has just finished runner-up at the HP Open in Osaka. The 29-year-old, alongside Pennetta, has formed the foundation of the Italian Fed Cup campaign in this year’s competition.
It could be argued that Schiavone, in particular, has saved her best tennis for Italy’s opening two ties. She defeated Alize Cornet of France in the first round before winning what must rank as one of her finest career victories in the semifinals against Russia.
Schiavone came from a set down to triumph over Svetlana Kuznetsova, the two-time Grand Slam champion and current world No. 3, before clinching the decisive rubber against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
On the doubles court, Pennetta and Schiavone, although not playing together, have won 13 titles between them in 2009 – an impressive haul. They have also never been defeated in a Fed Cup doubles rubber.
However, the options don’t end there for Corrado Barazzutti, the Italian captain. Italy has seven players currently ranked inside the world’s top 100 including Roberta Vinci, who is also unbeaten in Fed Cup doubles play with an impressive win-loss record of 13-0.
Youth and experience or the Williams sisters?
USA will of course be hoping that the Williams sisters are available for the Final. Neither of them has played in the Fed Cup since 2007 although they have both indicated that, fitness permitting, they will make the trip to Reggio Calabria.
Serena and Venus, currently ranked No. 1 and No. 4 in the world respectively, need little introduction. Combined, they have won 75 singles titles including 18 at Grand Slam events. They also possess exceptional Fed Cup records and were both members of the American team that was crowned champion in 1999.
However, USA has reached the Final without the services of their top two players, relying on a mixture of youth and experience that has so far served them well. Mary Joe Fernandez, the American captain, will have to make some tough decisions in the coming weeks – many might call it ‘a nice problem to have’.
Liezel Huber, the world’s top ranked doubles player, is the only American to have competed in the first round and semifinals, winning the decisive doubles rubber in both ties. Partnering Zimbabwe’s Cara Black, she has also won five titles in 2009.
In singles play, Jill Craybas, Melanie Oudin, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Alexa Glatch have all played two rubbers each in this year’s campaign. Most notably, Oudin and Glatch won crucial rubbers during impressive Fed Cup debuts.
Oudin, who played a key role in the first round victory over Argentina, won the hearts of the American public by reaching the US Open quarterfinals in September. However, since her exploits at Flushing Meadows, the talented teenager has significantly lost to both Craybas and Glatch in the qualifying at her last two tournaments.
Despite victory over Oudin in Beijing, Glatch, who performed beyond her years when winning both of her debut rubbers in the semifinals against Czech Republic, hasn’t been past the first round of a tournament since June.
Whoever is selected when the action gets under way in a fortnight, it is sure to be an intriguing battle played in front of a passionate Italian crowd. You will be able to follow it all on fedcup.com with ball-by-ball commentary, live video streaming, game-by-game text updates and much more.