Flavia Pennetta Sends Italy Into Fed Cup Semis

Flavia Pennetta finished with conviction to send defending Fed Cup champion Italy into its third consecutive Fed Cup semifinal. The Australian Open doubles champion swept Jarmila Groth, 6-3, 6-2, in 66 minutes to give Italy an unassailable 3-1 lead in the best-of-five match World Group first-round tie in Hobart.

"I think it was a really tough match and really tough to play against a good team like Australia, but I'm very happy we won and are returning to the semifinal," said Pennetta.

Closing Fed Cup ties with conviction has become commonplace for Pennetta, who pounded out a 6-1, 6-2, victory over 18-year-old Fed Cup debutante Coco Vandeweghe to clinch Italy's third Fed Cup championship in the past five years with a 3-1 victory over the United States at the San Diego Sports Arena last November. It marked the second straight year Pennetta closed out the Fed Cup final against the United States. In November of 2009, she beat Melanie Oudin, 7-5, 6-2, to seal Italy's 4-0 victory over the USA on the red clay of Reggio Calabria.

The Italians are playing for a three-peat this season.

Two-time defending champion Italy could benefit from surprising developments in Moscow. Heavily-favored host Russia is on the edge of elimination from the World Group. A surprising French squad holds a 2-0 lead over the Russians as Alize Cornet scored a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the opener and teammate Virginie Razzano rolled Maria Sharapova, 6-3, 6-4, to put France on the brink of what would be a monumental upset. Snuffing out any embers of hope of an Aussie rally, Pennetta put the pressure on in the third game of the second set. Groth hit a series of second serves within six inches of the service line, but on break point she spun a double fault deep to drop serve and fall into a 1-2 second-set hole. Pennetta worked her way out of a 0-30 hole to hold for 4-2.Playing determiend defense, Pennetta coaxed an error to break for 5-2 and the Italian fans in the stands uncorked the wine bottle in anticipation of finality, which came in the next game. Groth opened the tie with a comeback win over Schiavone on Saturday, but Aussie aims for an upset sputtered as fifth-ranked Samantha Stosur suffered successive setbacks. In a rematch of the French Open final, a focused Francesca Schiavone patiently probed Stosur's weaker backhand wing on pivotal points in the decisive set of her 7-6(1), 3-6, 7-5 victory that staked Italy to a 2-1 lead. Stepping into a brilliant backhand winner down the line, Schiavone earned her fifth match point. Stosur, who struggled to land a first serve in the final game, missed a first serve again. Schiavone flattened out a forehand return and when Stosur slapped a shot into net the two hour, 33-minute match was over. 

"It was tough for me because yesterday I lost," said Schiavone. "I try to concentrate knowing tomorrow is a new day. I just kept working and try to give my best in this match."

Australia entered the tie with a 5-0 record against Italy, but Stosur, who has not produced her best tennis on home soil, suffered her second three-set loss in as many days. The highly-anticipated Fed Cup clash was all tied up after Saturday's opening day of play.  Pennetta pulled Italy even, posting a dramatic 7-6(5), 6-7(5), 6-4 triumph over  Stosur. It was a historic win, marking the first time in Fed Cup history that Italy had won a match against Australia after 16 consecutive losses, including Groth's 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-3 comeback victory over  Schiavone to open the tie.

Pennetta proved to be a capable closer today.
She forced Groth to play catch-up from the early stages. Groth saved two break points, but sailed a forehand beyond the baseline on the third break point, giving Pennetta the break and a 3-1 lead. Pennetta held at 15 to consolidate for 4-1. Gaining ground, Groth held and broke at love for 3-4. Stepping inside the baseline, Pennetta snapped a backhand return winner up the line for double break point. Pennetta found the angle with a forehand winner to break for 5-3. Serving for the set at 30-all, Pennetta's ace was nullified by a let cord. She responded with a clean ace for set point and collected the first set when Groth scattered a backhand wide.