CAGLIARI, SARDINIA: Unlike the rest of Italy, Sardinia is rarely hit by earthquakes. However, the Mediterranean island may experience a shock of seismic proportions this weekend if Russia, against all odds, upset the hosts in the final of the 2013 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas at the Tennis Club Cagliari.
It may come as a surprise to some that an encounter between the two powerhouses in Fed Cup over the last decade is seen to be so one-sided, but the task facing the visitors is summed up by the fact that their two singles players on the opening day are both making their debut in the competition.
Russia captain Shamil Tarpischev surprised many, including the player herself, by choosing 18-year-old Irina Khromacheva instead of Alisa Kleybanova to take on world No. 7 Sara Errani on the opening day, with the match following the opening rubber between Roberta Vinci and Alexandra Panova.
Whether it proves to be a masterstroke remains to be seen. The decision has some confused but former junior world No. 1 Khromacheva, who has a senior ranking of No. 236, already has a bit of history on the clay. All four of her ITF singles titles have come on the surface and she won two Grand Slam junior doubles titles at Roland Garros.
Kleybanova, on the other hand, may be a former world No. 20 but her battle against Hodgkin’s Lymphoma has seen her drop to No. 183 and she has not played a match on red clay since May 2011.
“For sure I have to play my best tennis to beat Errani,” said Khromacheva, who was only told 15 minutes before the draw that she had been chosen to play. “But it’s the final of Fed Cup, everything is possible.
“We will speak with the coach this evening to discuss the tactics and I will stick to that. I have nothing to lose and I will just go there and enjoy and fight for every single ball.”
Errani will spend some of the eve of the 50th anniversary final on YouTube, watching clips of Khromacheva, a player she knows very little about, in action.
“I was a bit surprised that I wasn’t playing Kleybanova,” admitted Errani, who was presented with the Fed Cup Heart Award after the draw. “I don’t know Khromacheva very much. I will try to ask somebody who knows her and see on the internet how she plays.
“The internet helps you many times. When you don’t know somebody you can go there and see how she’s playing and her game.”
Vinci, ranked No. 13, will also have to do a bit of scouting of world No. 136 Panova, who has shown form on the clay in the past with her only run to the final of a WTA tournament coming in Bogota in February 2012.
“I was wanting to go first,” said 24-year-old Panova. “I have to play my best I guess, just like every day. I know I can do it and we’ll see.”
As well as the strong opposition, the visitors will have a partisan home crowd to contend with at the sold-out 5,000 capacity outdoor arena, who will be willing their side to a fourth Fed Cup title, which would equal Russia’s title count.
Italy captain Corrado Barazzutti said: “We are favourites in this final but I say many times that this type of competition is very dangerous. I think it will be a tough match as they all are in Fed Cup.
“To win a fourth Fed Cup would be a great success for Italy and we are very close to doing it but we have to play.”
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Roberta Vinci (ITA) v Alexandra Panova (RUS)
R2: Sara Errani (ITA) v Irina Khromacheva (RUS)
R3: Sara Errani (ITA) v Alexandra Panova (RUS)
R4: Roberta Vinci (ITA) v Irina Khromacheva (RUS)
R5: Flavia Pennetta/Karin Knapp (ITA) v Alisa Kleybanova/Margarita Gasparyan (RUS)
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Captain Corrado Barazzutti (ITA) - 01/11/2013
Roberta Vinci (ITA) - 01/11/2013
Sara Errani (ITA) - 01/11/2013
Karin Knapp and Flavia Pennetta (ITA) - 01/11/2013