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Lepchenko Earns Emotional Win Over Vinci in Fed Cup

Varvara Lepchenko hung on to win over Italy's Roberta Vinci to level the Italy/U.S. Fed Cup tie at 1-1. Sara Errani won earlier in the day.

By Erik Gudris

Varvara Lepchenko (February 9th, 2013) -- U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez said it best when being interviewed after day one of the Italy vs. U.S. tie in Rimini.

"It could have been better. It could have been worse," said Fernandez when describing her team's efforts taking on a tough Italian team on their home court. Despite a dramatic day of ups and downs, the U.S. finds itself level at 1-all heading into tomorrow's final day of action.

It was a lopsided opening singles rubber between Italy's Sara Errani and American Jamie Hampton playing in her first Fed Cup match that started things off. Errani, the French Open finalist from last year, was right at home on the red Italian clay while Hampton looked frustrated for the entire match.

Hampton tried to attack Errani's backhand for the majority of the afternoon but to little effect. Errani closed out the 6-2 first set with a backhand down the line winner.

The second set went even more in favor of Errani as she broke Hampton's serve three straight times en route to a convincing 6-2, 6-1 win.

That put the pressure on Varvara Lepchenko, also playing in her first ever Fed Cup match, to put her team on the board as she faced Roberta Vinci in the second match. Despite going up an early break of serve, Lepchenko found herself broken twice as Vinci went on to roll through the set 6-2.

Lepchenko got things going in the second set as she jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead. The American had a chance for a double break lead but Vinci stopped her slide and finally held serve for 2-1.

Both players stayed level with each other for 4-all until Lepchenko seized yet another break and went on to serve out the set and thus force a decider.

Then the drama set in after both women broke each other to start the final set before Lepchenko began to build what looked like a commanding 5-1 lead. By now Vinci appeared to deal with a combination of cramps and a leg injury that put things solidly in favor of the American. But Lepchenko couldn't serve out the match on her first opportunity and that allowed Vinci to receive treatment as the home crowd grew more raucous in support of the Italians.

Lepchenko couldn't serve out the match again and soon Vinci leveled the set at 5-all. But Lepchenko broke to love in the next game giving her a third chance to close it out for good.  This time Lepchenko seized the moment as she served out the match 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 to give the U.S. its first point of the tie.

The win over Vinci is one of the biggest of Lepchenko's career since her upset victory over then No. 12 in the world Francesca Schiavone at the French Open last year.

Lepchenko afterwards dedicated the win to her new fiancée Taras who she met two years ago.

“I was really proud of the way Varvara approached the match and how disciplined she was," said Fernandez afterwards. "Even when she was down, she competed really well. In Fed Cup, things get complicated and there is always tension. It probably wasn’t easy for her playing for the first time in Fed Cup without a home crowd, but she did a great job blocking it out. She kept fighting and kept believing. Varvara has a great game and can play anyone. She can make anyone feel uncomfortable and she did that today. She played her heart out.”

Lepchenko herself that despite the crowd rooting against her, it was teammates on the sidelines that helped pull her through for the win.

“It has been amazing to be a part of a team this week. I have so much support from all of them. I feel like I can’t let them down. I played more for them today than for myself. I am really proud of the way I handled myself today. I have had many people cheering against me in many tournaments throughout the year, so this time, I was happy to see my team cheering for me. They really helped me.”

Tomorrow Lepchenko will take on Errani in the first reverse singles rubber of the day. Italy's Fed Cup captain confirmed that Vinci will take part tomorrow in her meeting against Hampton that is the second scheduled match of the day.

(Photo Credit: AP)


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