CLEVELAND, USA: This weekend in Cleveland, Ohio, two seasoned Fed Cup captains, who both were Top 10 players in their days, will lead two neophyte teams into a Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round battle.
The host nation will be led by Mary Joe Fernandez, with her two singles players Madison Keys and Christina McHale, and a named doubles duo of Lauren Davis and Alison Riske.
The visitors are led by captain Corrado Barazzutti, his singles players Karin Knapp and Camila Giorgi, and a planned doubles duo of Nastassja Burnett and Alice Matteucci.
Since 2009, Italy has won the Fed Cup title three times and two of those times were against the USA. Italy won the Cup with a 4-1 victory over the USA in Reggio Calabria, Italy in 2009. They followed that by winning the Cup in 2010 with a 3-1 victory over USA in San Diego, California.
In 2013, Italy knocked the USA out of the competition in the quarterfinals with a 3-2 win in Rimini, Italy, and then went on to regain the Cup with a 4-0 win over Russia at home in Sardinia.
At the official dinner on Thursday night, Fernandez suggested that in the last couple of years the USA has improved against Italy by a match each year. She then noted if that improvement continues this weekend the Americans could land a victory. Barazzutti laughed at Fernandez’s math, but he didn’t look ready to surrender without a fight.
For singles, Fernandez selected her top-ranked player, the world No. 37 Keys, to lead the way. Keys will play against Italy’s second singles player, Giorgi, in the second singles of the day on Saturday. This marks a Fed Cup debut for both of these competitors.
“I’m just so excited, it’s just such an amazing experience to be able to play for my country,” Keys said.
As for Giorgi, she plans on being ready to take on Keys on Saturday and McHale on Sunday.
“The court is feeling good and it’s going to be a great experience,” said Giorgi, who lost to Keys the one time they played on the tour.
Opening the weekend will be the world No. 62 McHale against Knapp. Both of these players are the so-called Fed Cup veterans on their squads. McHale has played on four Fed Cup teams and has a 4-3 winning record in singles. Knapp has played in two Fed Cup squads, losing the one singles match she played, but is 1-1 in doubles.
“I was saying I won a raffle when they pulled my name out,” said McHale, when drawn to play the first match of this Fed Cup tie. “I think it will be nice to start off the first match tomorrow. We’re all just looking forward to getting out there, starting the tie.”
Knapp, who lost to McHale the one time they played a WTA Tour match, was looking forward to leading her team this weekend.
“We are really happy to be here,” Knapp said. “We make a great team. We are very happy the captain chose us. We will fight and try to win again, try to follow Sara (Errani), Roberta (Vinci), and the other ones.”
On Sunday, Keys faces Knapp, followed by McHale and Giorgi. The final match of the weekend will be the doubles.
Both captains are pleased to be bringing young players to the Fed Cup family this weekend.
Mary Joe Fernandez said, “It’s exciting to have young members, new members on the team. Christina is our experienced one, the veteran at the prime old age of what, 21?”
Barazzutti said, “I think it will be a very tough match, very talented match. (We) are a young team, so we come here to try hard to win this match and we know it will be difficult.”
In all, the USA and Italy have met 12 times in the past in Fed Cup with the USA holding an overall 9-3 record over the Italians.
The USA has won a record 17 Fed Cup titles. The Italians have won the Cup on four occasions — their players’ warmup suits feature four stars to represent their four previous titles.
The full draw is listed below:
R1: Christina McHale (USA) v Karin Knapp (ITA)
R2: Madison Keys (USA) v Camila Giorgi (ITA)
R3: Madison Keys (USA) v Karin Knapp (ITA)
R4: Christina McHale (USA) v Camila Giorgi (ITA)
R5: Lauren Davis/Alison Riske (USA) v Nastassja Burnett/Alice Matteucci (ITA)
Captain Corrado Barazzutti (ITA) - 07/02/2014
Captain Mary Joe Fernandez (USA) - 07/02/2014
Madison Keys (USA) - 07/02/2014