BIELLA, ITALY: Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci combined to defeat Olga Savchuk and Lesia Tsurenko 75 06 61 and claim the decisive doubles rubber in Biella that secured Italy's spot in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group semifinals.
It was another sterling comeback from Italy after Francesca Schiavone had battled back from the brink of defeat to beat Kateryna Bondarenko 67(6) 75 64 in a marathon match lasting 2 hours 50 minutes in the day’s opening rubber.
Sara Errani, preferred over usual singles choice Pennetta, who is carrying a slight back injury, retired when losing 61 30 to Tsurenko to set up a tense finale. It also mean a swift change in the doubles line-up, with Pennetta replacing the injured Errani.
Pennetta and Vinci hadn’t played together since 2003 but they soared into a 5-4 lead, and, although Pennetta failed to hold serve for the opening set, in Vinci’s service game she volleyed short over the net to put Italy in the lead.
The second set was one to forget for the Italian duo as Ukraine roared back, taking all six games - breaking Italy’s serve to love in the final one - to draw level.
However, Vinci hasn’t lost in doubles in Fed Cup and she wasn’t about to start as a series of brilliant volleys from the world No. 23 had the partisan home crowd on its feet. Pennetta’s backhand volley to the baseline finally gave Italy victory in 1 hour 45 minutes.
The opening day of this Fed Cup tie had not gone to plan. Errani had found the going easy against Bondarenko, cruising to victory 62 63 to continue her good form from the Australian Open, but Tsurenko stunned the home fans in the second rubber to beat world No. 11 Schiavone 61 62.
Schiavone was keen to get back on track in the opening rubber and she started well, taking the first two games, breaking Bondarenko to love in the second with a powerful cross-court return.
However, Bondarenko broke straight back and took the next three games as well. Schiavone broke again in the 10th game to rescue the set, but once again the Italian slipped up and was broken to love. However, the game went against serve for the third successive time as Schiavone forced a tiebreak.
Schiavone again made several errors, including a double fault on her first serve, and was forced to rescue two set points, before a long return saw Bondarenko take the set in just over an hour.
Despite losing the set, the crowd were hopeful when Schiavone broke in the opening game of the second, but that was shortlived as Bondarenko broke three times to race into a 5-1 lead and it looked all over for Schiavone as the Ukrainian No. 1 prepared to serve for the match.
Schiavone dug deep and stormed back, only conceding one point in the next three games and the comeback was complete when she pulled off a glorious smash into the far left corner to take the game and level the set.
Schiavone was really into her stride and found the form that saw her win at Roland Garros in 2010 and reach the final last year. After holding her serve she broke to love to level the match.
She had the crowd on their feet in the final set and three aces in the what was to prove the last game saw her win the match.
Errani had a match to forget as she won only one game in the opening set against Tsurenko, who was brimming with confidence after defeating Schiavone, who sits over 100 places above her in the rankings.
Errani was broken again in the opening game of the second set. There was a lengthy pause as the world No. 34 was treated on the sidelines for an injury to her right knee. Although Errani returned to the court, she then decided to retire after being broken to love in the third game.
That set up a dramatic finale for Pennetta and Vinci, who sealed an away tie against defending champions Czech Republic in the World Group semifinals.
Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci (ITA) - 05/02/2012
Captain Corrado Barazzutti (ITA) - 05/02/2012