Fed Cup Final starts in



07 February 2010

Italy's title defence on track



  • Nick Lester

Photo: Paul ZimmerItalian team celebrates

Defending champion Italy are through to the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas semifinals after a come-from-behind win in Kharkiv.

Claiming both singles rubbers on Sunday, they silenced the home faithful inside the "palace of sports Lokomotiv" stadium and progressed to their fourth semifinal in five years.

The victories came from Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone, beating the Bondarenko sisters, Alona and Kateryna, 75 76(3) and 26 61 61 respectively.

Pennetta raises her game

Pennetta, who seemingly gets better with age, set the wheels in motion against Alona Bondarenko in a battle of the No. 1s.

The Ukrainian, however, will reflect on a match of missed opportunities. In both sets, at 54 in the first and 65 in the second, she let slip the chance to serve out the set.

After a sluggish start from both players, this was for the most part a match of quality. Pennetta and Bondarenko are very similar in both stature and style.

After trading breaks it was a couple of key overrules from Greek umpire Eva Azderaki that set Pennetta on her way to the opening set.

With Bondarenko stumbling while serving at 5-4, Azderaki stepped in on a long looking forehand that enabled Pennetta to break back.

Then crucially in the next game with the Italian at 40-30, a running forehand from Bondarenko at full stretch, which landed right under Azderaki, was initially called good but then overturned.

The Ukrainian, whose emotions are never far away from the surface, began to let the frustrations grip her game, a double fault at set point down and Pennetta was in front.

The second set saw a run of five breaks in six games, including nine straight points for Bondarenko, who once again could not convert when serving.

To the tiebreak it went and the best tennis of the weekend. Pennetta possessed just a fraction extra weight of shot and also belief when necessary.

A 5-2 lead was quickly established, soon it was 6-3 and a bold and rare drop shot moved the Italians in front in the tie for the first time.

Pennetta admitted afterwards she played her best tennis when behind. "I played much better under pressure and I was figthing to the beginning from the end even if i did not always reach my best,” said the world No. 12.

So as elder sister, Alona, departed disconsolately it was left to the junior of the family, Kateryna, to step up.

’Strangest one’ seals victory

Lea Pericoli, a former Italian No. 1 in attendance, affectionately described Schiavone as ‘the strangest one’. Strange maybe, but tough definitely. The Italian has proved priceless for the defending champion over recent years, particularly in times of trouble.

At practise before the start of play, Schiavone had worked for a good 30 minutes on her forehand. But for the early stages of the day's second contest, it seemed to have little effect with Bondarenko claiming a one-sided first set 62.

Having lost three straight sets - including yesterday’s defeat - there was no hint of despair, Schiavone went on the offence. The forehand suddenly transformed into a weapon, bullying Bondarenko, knocking the Ukrainian off balance with mix of slice and loop, not unorthodox just unusual in today's game.

With the second set wrapped up 61, Schiavone sealed the match and tie with the same score line in the decider. Victory came after over an hour and a half on court.

So, Italy progresses to meet Czech Republic in the final four at home in April – and almost certainly on clay.

Captain Corrado Barazzutti was left once more to salute his team, “Really the Ukraine are one of the best teams in the world. The two Bondarenko's are two great players and that is a really important victory for us.”

For the home nation, which was making its debut in the top tier, it's one and done in the World Group. But it would be a surprise were they not to get a second shot though in 2011.

  • More photos

    • Italian team celebratesAlona Bondarenko (UKR)
    • Flavia Pennetta (ITA)Palace of Sports Lokomotiv, Kharkiv
    • Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR)Francesca Schiavone (ITA)
    • Captain Vlodymyr Bogdanov and Alona Bondarenko (UKR)Flavia Pennetta (ITA)
    • Flavia Pennetta and captain Corrado Barazzutti (ITA)Francesca Schiavone (ITA)
    • Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci (ITA)

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