RIMINI, ITALY: It is all square between Italy and USA after Varvara Lepchenko stunned Roberta Vinci in the second rubber on Saturday, following Sara Errani's straight sets victory over Jamie Hampton.
Italy, which had beaten the USA in back-to-back finals in 2009 and 2010, was expected to stroll to a 2-0 lead against two Fed Cup debutants.
Errani got Italy off to the perfect start but Lepchenko marked her first Fed Cup appearance with a surprise victory over an injury-struck Vinci, beating the world No.16, 26 64 75 after a thrilling final set which saw seven breaks of serve.
Lepchenko broke early in the match but was then broken twice in quick succession and Vinci took the set when the American sent a forehand into the net.
"Roberta came back more because I was losing my focus," Lepchenko said. "I really lost my focus and got a bit distracted, which happens a lot to a lot of players. I just kept on fighting, said to myself it's not the end of the match, you can still win it.
Just as she had done in the opening set, Lepchenko started the second strongly and immediately broke Vinci's serve. She almost did so again but Vinci rescued two break points before taking the game with a sliced volley.
Vinci managed to level the set with a perfectly placed slice from the baseline but she was then broken again and Lepchenko served to level the match.
Lepchenko once again broke immediately and, although Vinci broke straight back to love, the American began to dominate as Vinci seemed to struggle with a leg injury.
Lepchenko stormed into a 5-1 lead but Vinci fought back bravely, breaking her rival's serve twice, much to the delight of the crowd, which began to get noisier as it sensed a comeback on the cards.
However, Vinci twice had to get treatment on her left thigh as she struggled with injury and nerves and, although she levelled the set at 5-5, Lepchenko broke to love and the world No. 21 successfully served for the match at the third time of asking.
"I hope it's just a bit of cramp, but they're treating her and that wants a bit of time," Italy captain Corrado Barazzutti said. "Unfortunately when you come back into games, sometimes you win them and other times you lose them. Roberta did a really great effort. She used all her energy so there wasn't anything lacking in that department. She was injured but she played the last few games with all her heart."
Earlier, Italian No.1 Errani took just over an hour to defeat Jamie Hampton 62 61.
Errani dominated from start to finish and could have broken in the first game but Hampton managed to save two break points, first with an ace and then another brilliant serve which the Italian failed to return, before winning the game with a crosscourt backhand.
Errani didn't have to wait long, however, and she broke Hampton's next service game when the American hit into the net. She then held to love with Hampton hitting into the net twice more in a run of seven successive points for Errani.
The world No.7 was in complete control against an opponent ranked 57 places below her, and she racked up another three break points in the seventh game, taking it on the second when Hampton hit into net to leave the Italian serving for the set.
Errani wasted two set points, hitting one wide after being forced to rush to the net, before sending the other into the net. Hampton then got her first break point with a great forehand down the line but Errani saved it and then went on take the set with a splendid backhand down the line.
The second set was even more one-sided, and Errani broke three more times on her way to a comfortable victory.
"I'm really proud of how she (Lepchenko) approached the match and how disciplined she was," USA Captain Mary Joe Fernandez said. "She really played well for the second half of the match, used her forehand brilliantly. It's not easy the first time, especially when you're playing with a crowd from another country and she did a good job blocking it out. We're going to try our hearts out tomorrow and we'll see."
View match statistics here: Live scores
Varvara Lepchenko (USA) - 09/02/2013
Captain Mary Joe Fernandez (USA) - 09/02/2013
Captain Corrado Barazzutti (ITA) - 09/02/2013
Sara Errani (ITA) - 09/02/2013
Jamie Hampton (USA) - 09/02/2013