Italy increased their lead in the Fed Cup final to 2-0 on Saturday, one match from clinching the tie, when Italy’s Flavia Pennetta defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands 7-6(4), 6-3.
After going down early in the first set, Mattek-Sands won five straight games to eventually reach a tiebreak before dropping the first set. In the second set Mattek-Sands went down an early break before requiring massage and ice from the trainer in a quick exit on the indoor hardcourt in San Diego.
U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez will have to choose between the overwhelmed Coco Vanderweghe and Melanie Oudin, who was benched from the first day for a poor practice week, in the first match on Sunday.
Italy rolled to a 4-0 victory in last year’s final on the slow Italian red clay, and looks to repeat this year on the fast indoor hardcourt.
In the first match on Saturday, Fernandez hoped that the Fed Cup debutante Vandeweghe could dial-in the level of tennis that saw her upset current world No. 2 Vera Zvonareva earlier this year. Instead, opening the Fed Cup final for the U.S. against Italy’s Francesca Schiavone, Vandeweghe put in a nervous, error-filled display in a 6-2, 6-4 loss.
Even on a fast indoor hardcourt that suits her big serving and forehand, the 18-year-old was no match for the reigning French Open champ Schiavone, who sliced and diced and gave the American youngster just enough rope to hand herself. The Italian remained calm, weathering bouts of big serving and hitting from Vandeweghe, and showing veteran composure in moving the not-fleet-of-foot American around with deft angles.
Vandeweghe went down a break immediately in both sets, and in the initial game of the match showed what a mental struggle it would be on the big stage when she double faulted on game point.
Late in the second set it was Schiavone’s time to feel the nerves, playing some poor points to drop serve and even the set at 4-4. Vandeweghe then gave up the next game with two unforced forehand errors and two unforced backhand errors. Schiavone then easily served out the match.
Vandeweghe is much like teammate Melanie Oudin was when she first appeared on tour — not in the best of shape, with a bit of a “gut” visible, and a poor mover. That changed for Oudin when she worked with her trainers to erase the extra body fat and gain speed. Hopefully that is ahead for Vandeweghe, and not just a reliance on a thumping serve and forehand.
In the audience for the match was Vandeweghe’s mother Tauna, and her uncle Kiki Vandeweghe, the former NBA player and head coach. The just-grip-it-and-rip-it mentality apparently runs in the family, as the mother Tauna was interviewed in the crowd, saying she wished her daughter would “just play her game,” which according to mom was “pounding the ball down the center of the court.” Ironically as she said it, her daughter ran around a forehand return, pounding it down the middle of the court, which Schiavone then guided into the open court for a winner.
The shellacking for Vandeweghe at the hands of Schiavone should be enough for Fernandez to sit the rookie and give the “veteran” Oudin a shot on Sunday.
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