Reggio Calabria: The United States feel like underdogs in their Fed Cup final against Italy this weekend after Serena Williams pulled out, captain Mary Joe Fernandez said on Friday.
World number one Serena, whose sister Venus is also not competing, was named in the team but dropped out last week because of exhaustion. She had not played for her country since 2007.
The US have won 17 Fed Cup titles and have beaten Italy in each of their nine meetings.
“We’re the underdogs,” Fernandez told a news conference after a draw which pitted Alexa Glatch against Italy’s world number 11 Flavia Pennetta in Saturday’s opening singles rubber.
“The Williams sisters haven’t played much in the last 10 years. They both wanted to be here. I’m hoping that means they’re getting that pride and that sense of honour and privilege.”
The duo have been criticised by US media for their failure to represent their country enough but Fernandez feels their absence may have heaped more pressure on hosts Italy.
“I always think the home country feels the pressure a lot more,” she said. “In a final, there’s an added dimension. So for the Italians trying to win for the first time at home, their second Fed Cup title, the pressure is definitely on them more.”
Melanie Oudin, the top-ranked US player at 49, will face Francesca Schiavone in the second match just two weeks after the Italian won the Kremlin Cup in Moscow.
“For us it is an honour to play this final at home,” Schiavone said.
“Going on court first or second makes no difference to me. I have a lot of trust in what Flavia can do. It’s clear there’s pressure, if there wasn’t it wouldn’t be normal given the importance of the tie.”
The outdoor clay tie in Reggio Calabria, on the toe of Italy, is scheduled to conclude on Sunday with the reverse singles and the doubles although rain is forecast.