Italy has brought the Fed Cup home after a commanding 4-0 victory over USA at the 2009 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final in Reggio Calabria, which saw the home team deny USA a live set, let alone a match over the course of the two days. After winning their first ever title back in 2006 away to the Belgians, their second provides the icing on the cake, witnessed by 5000 adoring Italian fans at the Circolo del Tennis Rocco Polimeni.
And in the true team spirit of the Italians, it was the turn of world No. 11 Flavia Pennetta’s moment of glory, as she defeated Melanie Oudin 75 62 in the battle of the No. 1s on Sunday to cap a career-defining year for the 27-year-old, which saw her become the first ever Italian woman in tennis history to break the Top 10.
"It's a very nice feeling. We worked hard to get to this point and finally we make it. In the beginning of the week everyone expects so many things, and we were very nervous. But now we are three-love and we can enjoy."
Tenacious Oudin puts in brave performance
No one could deny that Melanie Oudin put in a gutsy performance in what were difficult circumstances for the 18-year-old in just her second Fed Cup tie. Like she had dug her way out of trouble in USA’s first round tie against Argentina, saving her team from defeat by winning the fourth rubber from a set down to level the tie 2-2, the ‘Oudini’ of Team USA never gave up throughout the one hour 28 minute encounter. But having been simply outplayed and out-experienced for the majority of the match, there was no escaping the fact that Italy, in Pennetta, were onto a winner.
"I think I could have played better on some points," said Oudin. "In the first set it was so close and I had a lot of chances, so I feel like if a couple things would have gone my way or if I would've hit this shot on that point, then it would have changed the momentum in the match. But after she won the first set, just like what happened yesterday, she kind of ran away with it. I think I letdown a little bit.
"Someday, when I'm in the Fed Cup final again, hopefully I'll be able to pull on the win."
But it was not 100% one-sided and there were glimpses of the terrier-like Oudin that had fought her way through the draw at the US Open. Having been on the back foot from the outset with an immediate service break in the opening game, Oudin really came into her stride in the eighth game of the first set, applying the pressure on her talented opponent to force the first deuce of the match and then earn three break points. Pennetta saved them all but the grapple had given Oudin some edge. She broke back in the tenth game to level the match at 5-5.
”These girls write the history of Italian tennis” – Barazzutti
There was a lot more distance between the two players in the second set with Pennetta keeping one eye on the trophy. She won four straight games in the second set to go 4-1 up and repaid a break of her own serve to go 5-2 and thus serve for the match. When she hit a backhand down the line at 5-2 40-30 to seal Fed Cup championship point, she flung her racket in the air, collapsed to her knees on the red clay and was hoisted up by captain Corrado Barazzutti, the man that has developed such an admirable strong team ethic since taking over the role in 2002.
“This is something unbelievable,” Barazzutti gushed, “these girls write the history of Italian tennis, this is a great moment. For a country like Italy…we are not America…this is a dream come true.”
This is the fourth time that Pennetta has scored the winning point for Italy in a Fed Cup tie, but none will be as enjoyable or as memorable as this one. Her 12th Fed Cup singles victory ended USA’s 9-0 winning run against the Italians in Fed Cup, which has spanned 40 years, and now 17-time champion USA must begin a new campaign to end its longest title drought in the competition, having last lifted the Rose Bowl in 2000.
Italy celebrates as No. 1 Fed Cup nation
However US captain Mary Joe Fernandez, in her debut year, will surely be proud of her young team, and her No. 1 player this weekend, who had a huge amount of pressure on her shoulders in the absence of the two Top 10’s Serena and Venus Williams. Oudin, embraced by Fernandez, was in tears after the match, having put up such a fight despite her ongoing struggle with the bad bounces and the greater sense of belief from Pennetta that had doubled in strength since Saturday’s match against Alexa Glatch.
While the Italian team piled on court to celebrate with Pennetta to the soundtrack of Black Eyed Peas “I Gotta Feeling”, Italian tennis stalwarts Lea Pericoli and Nicola Pietrangeli were all smiles from the stands as the girls took the flag in a lap of honour underneath the presidential box, and the TV crews and their equipment scampered from the fountains of champagne.
Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci made the scoreline 4-0 by winning the doubles over Liezel Huber and Vania King, Vinci extending her perfect record in Fed Cup doubles to 14-0, and the stage was set for the trophy ceremony. The teams were led on court to the evocative "Chariots of Fire" and when Italy lifted their trophies in front of the standing crowd, they sang with gusto to their national anthem followed by Pavarotti's "Nessun Dorma".
Italy has defied the likes of France, Fed Cup defending champion Russia and USA to win the 2009 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas and become the No. 1 nation in the Fed Cup nation rankings for the first time, and also the eighth nation in history to win more than one Fed Cup title. This weekend’s confident display and sweetest victory could provide the key to many more. Tonight will certainly be a good night.