What an incredibly rewarding two weeks of tennis it has been for Italian fans around the world! After the men's team defeated Argentina in the Davis Cup match in Mar del Plata in late January, Italy's women's tennis team travelled to Cleveland February 8-9 to square off against the U.S. team in the first round of the Fed Cup. In a 3-1 victory, the Italian team secured a position in the semi-finals round, over the more experienced U.S. team. The victory took place at a sold-out Cleveland Public Auditorium. Enthusiastic fans cheered wildly on both sides.
Today the Fed Cup is the women's premier international team tennis event. Italy has competed in every Fed Cup since its inception over 50 years ago, and was crowned world champion in 2006, 2009, 2010, and most recently in 2013. The victory sends our team to the World Group semi-finals April 19-20 against the Czech Republic, who defeated Spain after a rain delay. Although coach Barazzutti has yet to choose the players, an extremely tough round is ahead. We will not only face our opponents in the Czech Republic, but will do so on their chosen surface, possibly the fastest one out there. As Barazzutti said while we celebrated with the entire Italian delegation after the double match, "It will be very tricky. It is like playing on glass."
Things could not have gotten off to a better start for Team Italy on day one. The 26-year-old Karin Knapp, ranked World #44, beat Christina McHale 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 in the first match. In the second match, the #84 ranked Camila Giorgi dominated #37 ranked Madison Keys with an assertive 6-2, 6-1 victory. On day two, Italy needed only one more point to pass the quarter-final round. We knew it would not come from the doubles- match, as none of our players had ever played together in any combination. However, thanks to another fantastic display of guts and determination, Karin Knapp sealed the deal by winning her second match of the weekend. Cheered on by Italian Ambassador in the U.S., Claudio Bisogniero (who traveled here from Washington), tennis great, Lea Pericoli, representatives of the Italian Tennis Federation, myself and a small but very enthusiastic contingent of Italian fans, Karin defeated American Alison Riske 6-3, 7-5 to give Italy a surprising victory in the best-of-five series. The decision by U.S. captain, Mary Joe Fernandez to opt for the #46 rank Riske over Keys (who is the team's top-ranked player at #37 in the world) to oppose Knapp on Sunday, was "surprising," Barazzutti said, and "not a choice I would have made." As for the doubles-match, Lauren Davis (Cleveland native) and Madison Keys of the U.S. won 6-2, 6-3 against Nastassja Burnett and Alice Matteucci, the two youngest and least experienced players. Overall, it could not have been a more successful and positive trip for our Fed Cup team!
On a personal note, I must confess something. I come from a family with a world-ranked player in it. I was ranked myself in my younger days and I was surrounded by tennis gear for as far back as I can remember. Taking an active role in the preparations for this match, meeting the players and chatting with tennis great Corrado Barazzutti (who I remember watching practice in Rome at the same tennis academy my brothers and I were attending) were absolutely AMAZING experiences for me and ones that I will cherish for a very long time.