CAGLIARI, SARDINIA: The 2-0 lead for Italy over Russia at the end of day one of the 2013 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas final may be the scoreline which many had anticipated prior to the tie, but the way in which the hosts were made to work for their lead certainly was not.
Given the gulf in rankings between the two sides, it was understandable that some were predicting a short day’s action at the Tennis Club Cagliari. In the end, however, it took Roberta Vinci three hours and 13 minutes to overcome battling debutant Alexandra Panova in three gruelling sets, before Sara Errani defeated 18-year-old Irina Khromacheva, also making her first Fed Cup appearance, in straight sets.
Italy now just need one win on day two to claim a fourth Fed Cup crown, which would bring them level with their opponents’ title count. Errani will have the first opportunity when she takes on Panova, although captain Shamil Tarpischev would not rule out instead fielding Alisa Kleybanova, who has a 2-2 head-to-head record with Errani.
Vinci’s 57 75 86 win over world No. 136 Panova provided a thrilling start to the 50th anniversary final. In a match that ebbed and flowed throughout, the 24-year-old Russian got over the expected initial nerves and her aggression saw her take the first set, with the sold-out home crowd stunned into silence.
Vinci received treatment on her neck with the world No. 13 clearly struggling to move. With Panova up 52 in the second set with two chances to serve out the match, it looked to be all over but a combination of Vinci’s determination and Panova’s inexperience saw the 30-year-old Italian save three match points and go on to win five games in a row to level the match.
To her credit, Panova did not crumble and plugged away to earn another chance to serve for the match at 5-4 in the deciding set. A fourth match point, however, came and went as she hit a backhand wide and Vinci broke back before going on to claim the match on her second match point as Panova hit a backhand volley wide.
“It was a tough match,” said Vinci. “There were a lot of ups and downs. I was a little bit injured and at the end I had a little bit of cramp.
“My captain told me to try to play a lot of balls on the court. I think at the end she was a little bit tired and also it was the first time she played Fed Cup so there were probably a few nerves.
“I have had a great season but this is a fantastic win. I love to play Fed Cup and this was an important match. It was incredible and unbelievable to play for Italy.”
For Panova, it was a tough loss after being on the cusp of victory in the biggest match of her career. She who was so caught up in the match mentally that she was unaware after of the way the match seesawed throughout.
“It’s hard to judge the ups and downs from the ground when you are on the court,” said Panova. “You are just trying to figure out how to win a point.
“I felt like my serve wasn’t with me because I had a very low percentage on the first serve. I only had one ace so I had to play every point of the rally and that’s not what I usually do.”
It must have been exhausting enough for world No. 7 Errani watching her close friend and doubles partner Vinci on a television in the locker room before she stepped on to the court herself and she showed a few signs of tiredness in her 61 64 victory over Khromacheva in one hour and 25 minutes.
It may have taken six games for Khromacheva to get on the board but the young Russian showed signs of her promise with some nice touch at times on the red clay. It helped to earn her a break at 42 in the second set but Errani reeled off the next four games to claim the win.
“I was a bit down in the second set,” said Errani. “I was very tired physically. Also the weather at night was a bit more heavy so it was not so easy for me.
“I can play much better of course. I am a little bit tired and there is a lot of tension so it is not easy to play in Fed Cup. Also when you are favourites like this it is not easy.”
The schedule is listed below:
R1: Roberta Vinci (ITA) d. Alexandra Panova (RUS) 57 75 86
R2: Sara Errani (ITA) d. Irina Khromacheva (RUS) 61 64
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
Roberta Vinci (ITA) - 2/11/13
Alexandra Panova (RUS) - 2/11/13
Captain Corrado Barazzutti (ITA) - 02/11/2013
Irina Khromacheva (RUS) - 02/11/2013
Sara Errani (ITA) - 02/11/2013