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New look U.S. Fed Cup team opens 2013 campaign vs Italy

February 7, 2013 10:46 AM
Varvara Lepchenko is making her U.S. Fed Cup team debut.
Jamie Hampton enters Fed Cup with momentum, having reached the third round of the 2013 Australian Open.
By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
The last time the U.S. and Italy met in Fed Cup competition was in the 2010 final in San Diego, which Italy won, 3-1, to capture its second consecutive Fed Cup crown with its second consecutive win over the U.S.
The two teams meet again Feb. 9-10 in Rimini, Italy, in a first-round tie that kicks off the 50th anniversary of Fed Cup competition. And even though four of eight players return from the 2010 rosters, the two teams could hardly be more different now.
For the U.S., Liezel Huber and Melanie Oudin return, but they are no longer flanked by two Fed Cup veterans; instead, the two top-ranked players on Captain Mary Joe Fernandez’s squad are rookies Varvara Lepchenko and Jamie Hampton, ranked No. 21 and No. 64 in the world, respectively.
For the Italians, Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci have graduated from supporting players—they were on the 2010 Italian team but did not play—to the country’s top two players and the best women’s doubles team in the world.
Errani and Vinci were the Italian doubles tandem in the 2010 Fed Cup final, but they didn’t play in that tie, as Italy already had clinched the title on the strength of its singles performances. But the two will be front and center for Italy in Rimini. Errani and Vinci are now Italy’s the top two singles players, ranked No. 7 and No. 16 in the world, respectively, and have won three of the last four Grand Slam titles in women’s doubles. Karin Knapp and Nastassja Burnett round out the Italian squad, but are unlikely to play, unless Italy clinches the tie before the final doubles match in the best-of-five match series.
The tie will be played on an indoor clay court, a surface perfectly-suited for the spin that Errani, the 2012 French Open runner-up, puts on her forehand. Still, the Americans should be competitive. Lepchenko’s breakout season in 2012 included a run to the fourth round of the French Open, and Hampton made her Roland Garros debut last year, although she was forced to withdraw from her opening round match with a back injury.
The tie holds special importance for Lepchenko, who became a U.S. citizen in September 2011. Although the lineups for this weekend will not be determined until Friday’s official draw ceremony, she is ready to play as the U.S.’s No. 1. Lepchenko has not faced Errani in competition since 2009 and never faced Vinci.
"I am very excited to be here. It is my first time playing in Fed Cup, but this is similar to the Olympics, so I am not feeling too much pressure," Lepchenko said. "I like being part of a team. I am ready to play."
Meanwhile, Hampton, a former U.S. Fed Cup practice partner, comes in with arguably the most momentum of anyone on Fernandez’s squad. She used her world-class backhand and a much-improved forehand to make a run to the third round of the 2013 Australian Open, where she pushed world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka to three sets.
"It will be my first time playing [Fed Cup]," said Hampton. "While this environment will be a little bit more stressful than last time, I have been with a Fed Cup team, so I am ready to go and feel prepared."
The U.S. squad for this weekend’s tie was originally slated to include 2013 Australian Open semifinalist Sloane Stephens, but she was forced to withdraw with an abdominal injury. Still, Fernandez remains optimistic about her team.
"We have a very good team here in Italy. I have a couple players that I have had for a long time—Melanie and Liezel," Fernandez said. "They have the experience now and have played Italy before. Varvara is playing for the first time on our team and playing well, so it is exciting to have her. Jamie is here for the first time ready to play. We have a lot of variety, which makes it interesting. I am looking forward to leading this team."
For all news, information and photos from the U.S. Fed Cup team, please visit the Fed Cup homepage.



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