Sat, Apr 20, 2013 - Page 19 News List

Fed Cup champs face tough clash with Italy

AFP, PARIS

Australian Fed Cup players, from left to right, Ashleigh Barty, Samantha Stosur, captain Alicia Molik, Casey Dellacqua and Jarmila Gajdosova pose for photographers during a press conference on Thursday in Chiasso, Switzerland.

Photo: EPA

Russia, Italy and defending champions the Czech Republic, with 14 Fed Cup titles between them, take their powerful legacies into the semi-finals this weekend.

The Czechs, the two-time defending champions, travel to Palermo to face Italy, the winners in 2006, 2009 and 2010.

Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta return to the Italian squad after missing the 3-2 first round win over the US.

However, world No. 7 Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, the 12th-ranked player, are expected to shoulder the burden on Saturday and Sunday.

Vinci also holds the record (18-0) for the most Fed Cup doubles rubbers without defeat.

The Czechs, on a three-year undefeated streak in Fed Cup, are without doubles world No. 4 Andrea Hlavackova, who has been replaced by singles No. 20 Klara Zakopalova. That leaves Lucie Hradecka as their lone doubles specialist.

Former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova has won 13 of her last 14 Fed Cup singles rubbers. Twelve months ago, the Czechs trounced Italy 4-1 in the semi-finals.

“Against the Czech Republic, it will be tough for sure,” Vinci said. “Last time we lost in the Czech Republic 4-1, but the court was quick and this time we play on a clay court in Italy. I hope the outcome will be different.”

In Moscow, four-time champions Russia, again without Maria Sharapova, tackle the Slovak Republic who took the title in 2002.

In the absence of Sharapova, Russia will pin their singles hopes on Maria Kirilenko.

For the Slovaks, Daniela Hantuchova, who played in her team’s 2001 loss to the Russians, is still going strong with her 30th birthday just around the corner.

However, many eyes will be turned away from the all-European last-four ties to focus on the play-off between the US and Sweden at Delray Beach in Florida, where Serena and Venus Williams will be playing together for only the second time in six years.

For their World Group play-off against Sweden, the home side will also boast world No. 16 Sloane Stephens and Varvara Lepchenko, ranked 27th.

Serena has lost just one set in 11 appearances for her country.

“In general I feel a little bit of pressure when I’m playing for the team because I want to be able to do really well,” the 15-time Grand Slam champion said. “You’re not just playing for yourself. You don’t want to let your friends and your team down”

This weekend’s clash is just the fifth World Group play-off 17-time champions USA has ever had to contest.

In the other World Group One play-offs, Germany take on Serbia in Stuttgart, Switzerland host Australia at Chiasso-Seseglio and Spain play Japan in Barcelona.

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