A last-minute pull-out by Vera Zvonareva due to injury and the always-shaky mental state of Svetlana Kuznetsova has left Russia on the verge of a massive upset, trailing Italy 0-2 going into Sunday play in the Fed Cup semifinals in Italy.
Russia must win both singles matches then the doubles on Sunday to avoid the upset after heroic efforts by Flavia Pennetta and Francesca Schiavone on Saturday. Pennetta led things off with a 6-4, 6-0 dismantling of Zvonareva’s replacement, Anna Chakvetadze, who obviously wasn’t mentally prepared to be inserted into the line-up.
“It was tough for me on such a slow court to keep playing aggressive,” Chakvetadze said. “Second set I completely lost concentration, and confidence as well…Balls are heavy and courts are slow, we are in Italy and of course they did everything for their own players but we expected that.”
Apparently not expected enough. Although the Russian squad had a better part of a week to train in the conditions, Kuznetsova also complained about the court. Blowing away Schiavone 6-1 in the first, Kuznetsova nonetheless blamed the court and alternating sunny/shady weather after letting the Italian back in the match before losing 1-6, 6-2, 6-3.
“I didn’t play my best tennis,” Kuznetsova told reporters, refusing to shake her opponent’s hand after the match. “I came here from playing on hardcourts so it was very confusing. The conditions were slow in the first set, got faster in the second and slowed down again in the third. It’s very disappointing to be 2-0 down but we are not out of it yet.”
Schiavone received a standing ovation from the stadium crowd after putting the two-time defending champion Russians into an 0-2 position entering the final day, a day that will further test the shaky mental mettle of Chakvetadze and Kuznetsova.
The win was also redemption for Schiavone, who in the Fed Cup final two years ago lost to Kuznetsova after holding match points in Moscow.
“It’s good, this is for the team, she didn’t play so good but I put her under pressure and she could not do her best,” Schiavone said of Kuznetsova. “One time for her after losing match points and now one time for me.”
Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev, known for manipulating his line-up like chess pieces, could option Nadia Petrova into the Sunday singles line-up to give his team a spark.
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