Italy vs Russia
Although much stronger on paper than the Italian roster, the Russian team has suffered some blunders in the past, such as their loss to an inexperienced United States team in the Semifinal in 2010. The team also almost failed to come through the Quarterfinal round this year. Facing France in February, Shamil Tarpishev and his team had to overcome a 0-2 disadvantage after the first day.
Italy and Russia have met five times in Federation Cup competition, with Russia prevailing four times – three times on clay and once on hard. The win on hard came in a 4-0 victory in the competition Final in 2007, in Moscow. The two nations' last meeting, however, in the 2009 Semifinal held on clay in Italy, ended in a 4-1 thrashing by the home country.
Russian Captain Shamil Tarpischev needs little introduction. The Head of Russia's Tennis Federation and Captain of both the Fed Cup and the Davis Cup teams, the 62-year-old is the maestro of Russian tennis. Having seen the country's tennis development through different eras, Tarpischev first began coaching Fed Cup in the 1970s. In fact, he was named the National Tennis Coach for the USSR in 1974, at 25 years old. Known as a master psychologists, he is surely one of the keys to the success of Russia's squad.
However, Italy's Corrado Barazzutti is a master in his own right. When the young Tarpischev was busy coaching men his own age in Davis Cup, the slightly younger Barazzutti was also busy, winning that competition in 1976, the only time Italian men prevailed in Davis Cup. Like Tarpischev, the Italian coaches both Fed Cup and Davis Cup, and has proven his success with the four women's team championship titles.
Although there is no denying that a home advantage, along with the choice of hard court as a surface, will play to Russia's benefit, the tie's venue is new to the Russian team, as well. Prior to this year, only two Moscow arenas were used to host international tennis competition, but this year, the Megasport Arena, normally host to ice hockey, is being used for tennis. Although it's still a home arena, being in a new space could play a trick on the Russian team.
Keeping the ice rink in place could have been the best solution to Russia's choice of surface. Although the Russians are generally more comfortable on hard than the Italian team, the surface switch back to hard courts after the beginning of the clay court season might become a liability for both teams. Still, Russia obviously picked to its advantage and the Russian players are claiming to be comfortable on the newly laid surface.
The draw, held earlier today, showed that both captains are, at this stage, planning to rely on their two highest-ranked players. Vera Zvonareva and Svetlana Kuznetsova are scheduled to play singles for Russia, while Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani will lead the Italian team.
Vera Zvonareva vs Sara Errani
If head-to-head records are to be relied upon, Italy might get a disappointing result right away. In their three meetings, all of them on hard courts, Zvonareva overpowered Errani to win in straight sets. Although she is a tough competitor, beating the World No. 3 will be a tall task for the 5'4'' Errani.
Svetlana Kuznetsova vs Roberta Vinci
The Italian squad's No. 1, Vinci appears to have a better chance at winning her rubber. Not only is her opponent coming into the match after suffering a shock loss on clay in Marbella, but Vinci prevailed over Kuznetsova the last time they met, on the hard courts in Beijing last year. If Kuznetsova plays her best game, Vinci is unlikely to make a dent, but if the Russian is just a little off, Vinci just might rattle her.
Zvonareva vs Vinci
Vinci is unlikely to be lucky against Zvonareva, however. Although the Italian won in the pair's first meeting, back in 2005 on grass, she has the subsequent four. Zvonareva beat Vinci 6-3, 6-1 earlier this year in Dubai.
Kuznetsova vs Errani
Like her countrywoman Zvonareva, Svetlana Kuznetsova also has a lossless record against Errani, having beaten the Italian twice. However, in their last meeting in San Diego last year, Errani took the match all the way to 7-5 in the third set. Should this rubber be live, this will be a great chance for Italy to take the tie to a deciding doubles rubber.
Ekaterina Makarova/Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs Alberta Brianti and Maria Elena Camerin
This match has the higher likelihood of happening as a dead rubber than a live match. Should the doubles be played for a deciding point, both captains are likely to make substitutions. Excellent doubles players Kuznetsova or Zvonareva would make better partners for Pavlyuchenkova that Makarova, as the pair would be able to easily overpower the Italians. Similarly, Errani and Vinci are an established doubles pairing, who have proven their ability to play together.
Valentina: While it is not possible to make an exact prediction, Russia is for sure a stop ahead.
Most Italian hopes are relying on Sara Errani. The youngest member of the team is in a good place on court and could be a real surprise of this tie. Despite a higher ranking, Roberta Vinci, the official leader of Barazzutti's team, has not been reaching great results on the WTA Tour, so there are some reservations about her potential here.
To add, Maria Elena Camerin has been having health problems this week. This could affect the strength of the doubles on Sunday. In case the doubles will be used to decide the tie, the Russian girls could prevail on surface and fitness alone.
It is difficult to predict a surprise. Russia's team has a great advantage playing at home and on hard courts. But the secret and the strength of the Italians come from the team; that is the real resource for a "dramatic" scene that could be created this weekend. Russia comes in stronger, that's for sure, but the hope is that the Italian team won't give up until the last ball flies down the court.
Mariya: I'll go simpler. Russia 3-2, with Italy winning one singles rubber and the doubles.
You can find this article in Italian HERE
Valentina Clemente is an Editor at Italy's Tennis.it, the website of the country's premier tennis magazine, Tennis Oggi. She lives in Rome.
Mariya Konovalova is the Editor-in-Chief of ProTennisNews.net – a TalkAboutTennis.com website.