The United States Fed Cup team is set to play against Italy in the Fed Cup final for the second consecutive year. U.S. Captain Mary Joe Fernandez hopes to guide the team to its first title since 2000.
The U.S. again will be without its two best players, the Williams sisters. Without Venus and Serena last year, the Italians swept the U.S. team 4-0 on the red clay courts in Reggio Calabria, Italy.
At least this time the Americans get to play at home. It will be on an indoor hard court at the San Diego Sports Arena in California on November 6-7.
Fernandez has led the team to the finals in her first two seasons at the helm. "I think it obviously helps to be at home and playing on a surface that the team prefers. Last year being away in Italy, playing on the slow red clay was definitely more of a challenge."
Fernandez is bringing back the same core of players that have been playing the entire Fed Cup season. Included are Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Melanie Oudin, Liezel Huber, plus rookie CoCo Vandeweghe. While the Italian team includes much higher ranked players, the U.S. relies on its team chemistry and varying styles and personalities.
Fernandez says this type of camaraderie sets a solid foundation for the team. "It has just been fun. They practice well together. They really encourage each other. What I've liked is I've seen them doing it not only during Fed Cup, but also throughout the year. That is what you really want to build."
The Williams sisters originally committed to play against Italy, but both recently were forced to withdraw for the rest of the 2010 season due to lingering injuries.
Both are ranked in the top five, but now Fernandez's highest ranked singles player for the final is Bethanie Mattek-Sands at number 60. So Fernandez knows the Americans face a difficult challenge. "Of course it is disappointing. The whole team was really looking forward to having both Venus and Serena on the team. It would be my first time and my team's first time. Injuries are tough. You know, it is part of sports. You have to contend and deal with it."
Fernandez also knows that a Fed Cup final does not come easily and is at least glad the core players who helped the USA reach the final will get to play for the title. "I am so happy. You never know, end of the year, it is always tough. Bodies get banged up. It is not an easy time for anyone. I am very fortunate that they are able to come back."
The Italians have the same four players back who defeated the United States in last year's final. They are led by French Open champion and world number six Francesca Schiavone, 23rd ranked Flavia Pennetta and doubles players Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani.
This article was written for Voice of America (VOA) Sports and can be seen here. Also included is audio from VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer.