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Italy vs U.S. Fed Cup Tie Features First Timers and Veterans

Italy and the U.S square in Fed Cup this weekend on the red clay of Rimini. Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci lead the Italians while a pair of new faces will compete for the U.S. for the very first time.

By Erik Gudris

Varvara Lepcheno (February 7th, 2013) -- The U.S. will take on Italy in Fed Cup for the first time in several years this weekend as part of an intriguing world group tie featuring several surprise participants.

The last time both teams faced off against each other was in the 2010 finals held in San Diego. Italy overwhelmed the mostly young U.S. team led by Melanie Oudin who actually beat newly minted French Open champion Francesca Schiavone. But that was the lone victory scored by the Americans as Italy went on to win 3-1.

Despite this year's tie being held in Rimini, Italy on red clay, Schiavone will not be appearing this time. The former top ten player has struggled for the better part of the last 12 months with her form and was considered a long shot to appear. Another member of the 2010 team, Flavia Pennetta, is still rehabilitating from injury and also is unable to compete.

That leaves last year's French Open finalist Sara Errani along with her fellow doubles partner Roberta Vinci as the two linchpins for the Italian team. Joining them will be Karin Knapp and Nastassja Burnett, both of whom are ranked outside the top 100. Errani and Vinci will very likely compete both in singles and doubles, if that rubber is needed or even played due to the new rule change per the ITF this week, so all the pressure will be on the current WTA No. 1 doubles team to come through each day.

The U.S. is fielding a mix of veterans and first-time Fed Cup participants. With injury sidelining Serena Williams, Venus Williams and just recently Sloane Stephens, that forced Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez to go deep into her address book of current U.S. players.

Varvara Lepchenko, who reached the fourth round of Roland Garros last year, is now on the Fed Cup team for the first time in her career. She is joined by another Fed Cup first timer in Jaime Hampton, who is somewhat a surprise considering her recent back issues in Melbourne, though she has traveled with the Fed Cup team before.

Melanie Oudin is once again in the lineup along with veteran doubles specialist Liezel Huber who, like many on the team, was a last minute addition.

While Italy may be viewed as slight favorites considering they are playing at home and on red clay, recent Fed Cup history points things decidedly to the Americans coming out on top. The U.S. team leads the overall head to head against Italy 9-2 and the U.S. holds a 46-3 overall winning record in first round ties.

Lepchenko, who will likely be the lead singles player for the U.S., is 1-1 versus Errani though their last match was three years ago. Lepchenko has never played Vinci before and neither has Hampton who could be the second singles player for her team. Speaking earlier this week, Fernandez likes the U.S.'s chances on the road.

“We have a very good team here in Italy," said Fernandez. "I have a couple players that I have had for a long time— Melanie and Liezel. They have the experience now and have played Italy before, Varvara is playing for the first time on our team and playing well, so it is exciting to have her. Jamie is here for the first time ready to play, rather than just traveling with us. We have a lot of variety, which makes it interesting.”

Hampton is looking forward to the challenge of possibly suiting up for her first ever Fed Cup match.

“It is huge honor to play for your country. This isn’t my first time traveling with the Fed Cup team, but it will be my first time playing. While this environment will be a little bit more stressful than last time, I have been with a Fed Cup team, so I am ready to go and feel prepared.”

Though this tie appears to be evenly matched in terms of players, it probably wouldn't be a big surprise to see a few more last minute changes even after the draw is held this coming Friday. Facing a tough Italian team, The U.S. will have to hope their team rises to the occasion and that some luck slides their way on the red clay this weekend.

(Photo credit: Andrezj Kentla)


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