There was a shock singles selection for the Americans at the draw for the Fed Cup Final when it was revealed that captain Mary Joe Fernandez had chosen CoCo Vandeweghe as the second singles player.
The 18-year-old world No. 114 will be the first player since 1995 to make their Fed Cup debut in a final, and she replaces Melanie Oudin, who has been instrumental in getting the Americans to this final. Oudin is named for the doubles alongside Liezel Huber.
“I was thinking who the best matchup for Schiavone would be. She's such a different style of player than I think the players are accustomed,” explained Fernandez. “I decided with CoCo, with her height, her serve, her ability to really hit the ball up here, that's a good choice to start the day.”
“I think if Mary Joe Fernandez decide to put CoCo on the match probably is because she's playing good,” said Italian captain Corrado Barazzutti.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands who has had a breakthrough year, climbing over 70 places in the singles rankings and reaching the doubles semifinals at Wimbledon with US teammate Huber, is the No. 1 player for the first time. She faces Flavia Pennetta in the second match on Saturday.
“I'm always excited to play top players. They're both obviously highly ranked, Francesca coming off her French Open win this year,” said Mattek-Sands. “I'm really feeling confident in my game. I ended my season really well. I think I improved a lot this year and I'm feeling good.”
There were no such surprises in the Italian camp. Captain Corrado Barazzutti naming the same two singles players, Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone and Pennetta, for the sixth successive tie. The established pairing of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci was also chosen again to play doubles.
Schiavone will get proceedings underway tomorrow when she faces Vandeweghe on the hard court at the San Diego Sports Arena.
“I am a little bit surprised because I know all the balance from one player to the other one,” said Schiavone. “I think she's young, she's growing up. She play very good this year.”
The draw ceremony took place at SeaWorld in San Diego, California on Friday afternoon with Clyde the sealion assisting the officials in selecting the player to play first tomorrow.
The full draw is as follows:
R1: CoCo Vandeweghe (USA) v Francesca Schiavone (ITA)
R2: Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA) v Flavia Pennetta (ITA)
R3: Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA) v Francesca Schiavone (ITA)
R4: CoCo Vandeweghe (USA) v Flavia Pennetta (ITA)
R5: Liezel Huber / Melanie Oudin (USA) v Sara Errani / Roberta Vinci (ITA)
The tie is a repeat of last year’s Final in Reggio Calabria, when Italy defeated USA 4-0 to be crowned champion for the second time.
That result was Italy’s only victory over USA with the Americans holding an imposing 9-1 lead in their head-to-head series, including a win in the first ever Fed Cup tie for both nations in 1963.
This weekend’s action gets under way at the San Diego Sports Arena on Saturday at 13:00 (20:00 GMT).