Italy and USA have endured differing routes to reach this year’s Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final in Reggio Calabria. Italy has recorded comprehensive victories over two of the competition’s recent champions while USA, short of a couple of its ‘star’ names, has produced battling performances to progress.
Italy’s Fed Cup form in recent years has been impressive having reached three of the last four Finals since winning its maiden title in 2006. The Italians opened this year’s campaign with an away tie against France followed by a home victory over Russia.
In contrast, USA has suffered something of a drought by its high standards – the 17-time champion last won the title nine years ago. The American team’s passage to the Final came via wins against Argentina and Czech Republic, both going down to the deciding doubles rubber.
Impressive Italy cruise into Final
Italy’s first round trip to France could have been a tricky affair. The French side, which was crowned champion in 2003, included former world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo. However, Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone led the way for the Italians as they whitewashed their European neighbours.
The semifinal against Russia also looked like a potential banana skin but, now with home advantage and back on the team’s preferred surface of clay, Pennetta and Schiavone once again did the business, wrapping up proceedings before the doubles.
Having won both singles rubbers on the opening day, Italy was firmly in the driving seat going in to the second day’s play. However, Russia, who have won the title four times since 2004, can never be written off and so it proved. Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated Pennetta in straight sets paving the way for Schiavone to clinch the decisive rubber – Italy eventually winning 4-1.
USA relies on doubles expertise
Without the Williams sisters in the line-up, USA was made to work hard for its place in the Final. Mary Joe Fernandez, the American captain, selected six different players across the two ties with all of them playing in live rubbers. Although Liezel Huber and Jill Craybas are experienced Fed Cuppers, the other four were all making their debuts – Melanie Oudin and Julie Ditty against Argentina and Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Alexa Glatch against Czech Republic.
The first round tie, played on a hard court in Arizona, saw Argentina take a 2-1 lead before Oudin clawed the Americans back into it. She impressively fought back from a set down to defeat Betina Jozami 26 61 62. That left Huber and Ditty with the responsibility of booking USA’s semifinal spot, they duly obliged with a straight sets doubles victory.
The semifinal against Czech Republic followed a similar pattern although this time it was Glatch who won the fourth rubber to send the tie into a nail biting doubles decider. Huber, this time partnering Mattek-Sands, came from behind to edge past Iveta Benesova and Kveta Peschke 26 76 61.