BIELLA, ITALY: Sara Errani has been given the nod by Italian captain Corrado Barazzutti to play singles ahead of Flavia Pennetta, and she has been drawn to meet Ukrainian No. 1 Kateryna Bondarenko in the opening rubber of this Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie.
Francesca Schiavone takes on Lesia Tsurenko in the second rubber on Saturday, and then the former Roland Garros champion will be back in action in the first of Sunday's reverse singles rubbers, the battle of the No. 1s, against Bondarenko, followed by Errani and Tsurenko.
The nominated doubles pairs are Errani and Roberta Vinci for Italy and Yuliya Beygelzimer and Olga Savchuk for Ukraine.
Pennetta is carrying a slight back injury and Barazzutti has opted not to risk the world No. 22 in a tie in which the Italians, who top the Fed Cup rankings, are undisputed favourites as they kick off their campaign for a fourth title.
“The strength of this great squad full of great players, which I have the honour of leading, is that I can replace one player who is not back to her best after her back injury with another player just as strong,” Barazzutti said.
Errani comes in to the tie off the back of an impressive Australian Open, where she lost out to No. 2 seed Petra Kvitova in the singles quarterfinals and reached the final with Vinci in the doubles.
Moreover, neither of her Ukrainian opponents hold a higher ranking than the world No. 34, with Bondarenko standing as their top player at No. 89.
Errani knows that there will be an added pressure on her as the more illustrious Pennetta’s replacement but the 24-year-old insists she is not unduly concerned.
“I will try to treat this match just like any other, giving it my all and respecting my opponent to the utmost,” Errani said.
World No. 11 Schiavone is expected to comfortably win her matches and she is confident Errani will set the tone when she gets the tie underway.
“Sara will have the tricky task of opening the tie, against the more difficult opponent, but I am sure she will do really well,” Schiavone said. “It’s not as if she’s a debutante, she’s world No. 34.”
Italy have a record of three wins out of three against Ukraine, with the last of the victories coming in the first round in 2010 - the only other time Ukraine have made it into the World Group.
Ukraine are also without their best player of recent years. The older of the Bondarenko sisters - Alona - rose to No. 19 in 2008 but has slipped down the rankings after a serious knee injury.
Kateryna has also fallen, from No. 29, but she has won all nine of her Fed Cup doubles matches. However, Vinci jointly holds the record for the longest current winning streak, having won all 16 of her doubles rubbers.
The full draw is listed below.
R1: Errani (ITA) v Bondarenko (UKR)
R2: Schiavone (ITA) v Tsurenko (UKR)
R3: Schiavone (ITA) v Bondarenko (UKR)
R4: Errani (ITA) v Tsurenko (UKR)
R5: Errani / Vinci (ITA) v Beygelzimer / Savchuk (UKR)
Captain Corrado Barazzutti (ITA) - 03/02/2012
Francesca Schiavone (ITA) - 03/02/2012