Team of Italy (left Corrado Barazzutti, Francesca Schiavone, Roberta Vinci, Sara Errani,Flavia Pennetta) lift the trophy after the final match of the Fed Cup World Group between Italy and the USA at Circolo Tennis Rocco Polimeni on November 8, 2009 in Reggio Calabria, Italy.

Embedded in an intensely individual sport, Fed Cup and Davis Caup continue to reward competitors who can maintain unity and cohesion under pressure.  Neither team in San Diego this weekend contains a marquee superstar familiar to casual fans, with the arguable exception of Schiavone.  Instead, both Italy and the United States have built their recent success upon a core of loyal players dedicated to Fed Cup, most of whom value this team competition more than many of the tournaments that they enter.  While the Italians arrive as considerable favorites, Team USA ambushed a Russian squad spearheaded by Dementieva earlier and will hope to exploit their home-court advantage to reverse the outcome of the 2009 final, held on hostile clay.  Yet Schiavone and her supporting cast enjoy greater experience and possess a deeper reservoir of talent.  We break down each member of the teams and analyze her individual impact upon the weekend.  Which squad will prove greater than the sum of its parts?

USA:

Mattek-Sands:  A stronger server than the Italians, Mattek-Sands won the key rubber in the USA’s semifinal victory, a three-set rollercoaster over Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova.  The fast indoor court will shield her from the inconsistency that has hampered her in longer points, and she will find opportunities to showcase her forecourt talents.  When she faces Schiavone in Sunday’s singles, an engaging all-court contest could ensue.  Idle since reaching the final in Quebec City, Mattek-Sands responded to enthusiastic fan support at the US Open by reaching match point against the much more formidable Petkovic.  Likely to partner Huber in the doubles rubber, the quirky American probably holds the key to victory—or defeat—for the home team.

Vandeweghe:  Choosing Coco over the more seasoned Oudin, captain Mary Joe Fernandez has assumed a calculated risk that seems likely to reward her.  Appearing in her Fed Cup debut, the volatile teenager from Southern California hopes to build upon her local success in the San Diego event this August.  There, Vandeweghe stunned Wimbledon finalist Zvonareva and severely tested Kuznetsova before succumbing to that tournament’s eventual champion.   With her massive serve-forehand combinations, she should secure numerous free points on the fast court and won’t find her questionable movement exposed by the shorter rallies there.  After an encouraging fall campaign, Coco should enter the weekend brimming with confidence, while the crowd support should inoculate her against the tension typically experienced by Fed Cup novices.

Oudin:  The toast of New York a year ago, the pugnacious Georgian staggered through most of 2010 with one notable exception:  Fed Cup.  Effective against a dysfunctional French team in the quarterfinals, the former US Open quarterfinalist scored a key victory for the US in their opening rubber against Russia.  She then extended Dementieva to three sets a day later, reminding audiences that she thrives upon the home crowd’s support.  But the fast indoor court should prove a little too fast for the diminutive American, who relies on counterpunching rather than first-strike shotmaking.  Barring a Coco catastrophe on Saturday, she probably won’t see any action in a meaningful match over the weekend.

Huber:  Despite playing only one rubber for the USA, the former doubles #1 brings valuable experience and leadership qualities to the team.  After separating from longtime partner Cara Black, Huber has continued to score victories at WTA events with various partners; moreover, she has won all of the deciding doubles rubbers in which she has participated for the Americans.  Accustomed to receiving little attention in doubles, she has embraced the heightened intensity of Fed Cup and regularly exhorts her teammates from the bench.

Italy v USA - Fed Cup World Group Final Day Two

Italy:

Schiavone:   Seeking to conclude the strongest season of her career with a third Fed Cup title, the crafty veteran may arrive in San Diego fatigued from her exertions in Doha.  During that week, Schiavone often looked weary at key moments against Stosur and Wozniacki, but perhaps she merely conserved her energy for an event with greater personal significance for her.  A proud Italian who has personified the spirit of Fed Cup, the Roland Garros champion demonstrated her hard-court prowess throughout the second half of 2010, even on the fast surface at the US Open.  Relishing the atmosphere of battle, Schiavone will not crumble in the hostile surroundings of San Diego.  On the other hand, she has compiled just a 4-9 Fed Cup singles record on hard courts and a 7-8 Fed Cup singles record indoors.

Pennetta:  Overshadowed this season by her flamboyant compatriot, Flavia has delivered much more impressive Fed Cup performances on hard courts (6-2) and indoors (8-3).  Somewhat more powerful than Schiavone, Pennetta possesses a more reliable serve that led her to a semifinal in San Diego and a quarterfinal in Cincinnati this summer.  The second-ranked doubles player in the world, the Italian collected momentum from Doha by winning the doubles title there with Dulko.  Pennetta sagged perceptibly over the last few months, however, and brings a three-match losing streak to the weekend in San Diego.  Notorious for an explosive temper, the Calabrian will need to restrain her emotions under the pressure of the American crowd.  If she stays positive with the assistance of captain Corrado Barazzuti, however, Pennetta likely will play the heroine for Italy by winning both of her singles matches.

Errani/Vinci:  On most occasions, Team USA would fancy its chances in a doubles rubber involving Huber.  But Luxembourg champion Vinci remains a perfect 15-0 in Fed Cup doubles competition, with seven indoor victories.  Her partner Errani has lost just once in seven Fed Cup doubles rubbers and never on a hard court, so the Americans should not rely upon simply splitting the four singles matches to preserve their hopes for the doubles.  If this weekend does reach the final rubber, it could produce a thrilling climax that would showcase the highest quality of this overlooked division of the sport.

***

We return over the weekend to preview the Rafa-less Masters 1000 tournament in Paris, but first we extend our birthday wishes to the smiling Serb in Bali!

Advertisements