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Italy takes early lead over U.S. in Fed Cup quarterfinal

February 8, 2014 09:04 PM
Christina McHale serves to Karin Knapp in the first match of the U.S. vs. Italy quarterfinal tie.
Madison Keys returns a shot to Camila Giorgi in the second match of the tie.

By Sandra Harwitt, special to USTA.com

CLEVELAND – Sometimes giving your best effort still leaves you falling short of the goal. That’s exactly what happened for the U.S. Fed Cup team on Saturday, when it faced defending champion Italy here at the Public Auditorium.

Try as they might, when the day was done, U.S. Captain Mary Joe Fernandez and her enthusiastic young American team trailed the Italians, who went back to the hotel with a 2-0 lead.

Despite being down, Fernandez was not feeling out of this Fed Cup quarterfinal, knowing that Sunday’s schedule still has three matches to play. If the U.S. can win all three of those matches, it can still win the weekend. However, since the World Group format was instituted in 1995, the U.S. team is 0-10 in Fed Cup competition when it trails 0-2.

“The good news is, we’re still in it,” said Fernandez, who obviously was hoping for a better showing on Saturday. “I told the team before we started today, I really feel like we can win every match. Now the pressure’s on.

“Tomorrow is a new day. We start from the very first match to try to get that point on the board and go from there.”

Today, as in Saturday, is an old day and not one that went well for Team USA.

In the opening match, the 62nd-ranked Christina McHale put up a fight against the 40th-ranked Karin Knapp of Italy, winning the second set to force a decider. But in the end, Knapp ran away with the third set, racing to a 4-0 lead and taking the match, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, in two hours, 14 minutes.

“I think I started to really play more aggressive in the second set,” McHale said. “When I got the chance, I was really going for my shots more and pushing her back more. It felt like everything just started going better for me."

“Unfortunately, in the third set, I had some chances I didn’t capitalize on,” McHale added. “Kind of the momentum went back to her side.”

It was the second match, however, that really stung the U.S. No matter how hard she tried, the 37th-ranked Madison Keys, who was playing in her first Fed Cup tie, had no answers against Italy’s Camila Giorgi.

Giorgi, also making her Fed Cup debut, could do no wrong. She felt comfortable on the court from the outset and never experienced a letdown during her 6-2, 6-1 win. If there was any consolation, not only did it seem like Giorgi was playing fast – Keys' serves appeared to be returned at her feet when she still was concluding her service motion – but it was a quick match, lasting exactly one hour.

“All credit to her. She was playing amazingly,” Keys said. “I felt like every time I was trying to get back into a point, hit a good shot, she was hitting another really good one right back at me. I tried to do my best. I thought I fought to the very end. I can only control so many things. Great job to her today.”

While Italy went off with a 2-0 lead, its captain, Corrado Barazzutti, wasn’t acting as if this Fed Cup tie was a done deal for Italy. He knows there are still three matches to go, and any result is still a possibility.

“We are pleased but not happy,” Barazzutti said. “We have to play tomorrow. We need the one point more.”



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