Austin praises bold Fed Cup gamble by U.S.

United States captain Mary Joe Fernandez has gambled boldly with her selections for the opening singles against holders Italy in the Fed Cup finals, a move applauded by former world number one Tracy Austin.

Outranked and under-strength, the home team have pitted untried teenager Coco Vandeweghe against French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in the first match on Saturday before Bethanie Mattek-Sands takes on Italy`s Flavia Pennetta.

The choice of the 18-year-old Vandeweghe ahead of the higher-ranked and more experienced Melanie Oudin came as a surprise for many, but not for Austin.

"I wasn`t shocked because Coco has had a strong summer and into the fall she has been winning a lot of matches, chunks of matches," Austin told Reuters after Friday`s draw ceremony.

"Melanie`s game, matching up against Schiavone, is a difficult match-up because both players are more on the slider`s side but Schiavone has a bigger game. So therefore you might as well put Coco in there."

The six-foot one-inch (1.85m) Vandeweghe reached her first WTA quarter-final by upsetting Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva at the San Diego Open in August. She also got to the last eight in Tokyo last month.

"Coco`s tall, she`s got a big serve, she`s got a massive forehand and can come to the net," said Austin, a child prodigy who became the youngest U.S. Open champion in 1979 aged 16.

"She can get really hot so there is more of a chance there for the U.S. to come up with a win."

In the absence of the injured Williams sisters, Venus and Serena, Mattek-Sands is the highest-ranked player on the U.S. team and Austin felt her bold playing style could also give the hosts a welcome boost.

"Like Coco, Bethanie is very aggressive," Austin said. "They both really take chances and so they have to be on their game to come up with the wins. But they have the weapons.

"They will serve and volley, they will get to the net and finish points off. They`ve got a massive upside. If they come out and play their game and the Italians are a little bit tired, it could be a good day for the Americans."

While world number seven Schiavone and 23rd-ranked Pennetta heavily outrank Mattek-Sands (58th) and Vandeweghe 114th, Austin feels the Italians could lack a bit of match energy after playing at the WTA Tour championships in Doha.

"Maybe they are going to be a little tired and fatigued," said Austin, who represented the U.S. in 14 Fed Cup matches. "It`s a long season and some of our young ladies have had a little more time to kind of get geared up.

"But it`s going to be an uphill battle for the United States. It`s important for the home crowd to be very vocal and be behind their team."

Bureau Report