Reporting from San Diego — It's never been done before, a team coming from 0-2 down to win a Fed Cup championship.
So U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez needs to conjure up a special pep talk.
After Fed Cup rookie CoCo Vandeweghe was too late in penetrating the coolly multilayered game of 30-year-old Francesca Schiavone and Bethanie Mattek-Sands wasted a rousing comeback Saturday with a slew of unforced errors against Flavia Pennetta, the United States needs to win three matches Sunday against defending champion Italy to win its first championship since 2000.
Vandeweghe opened her match against French Open champion Schiavone with an ace, but the brief moment of oomph was quickly forgotten as Schiavone's varied pace and slices and spins confounded the 18-year-old. Schiavone won, 6-2, 6-4, and suffered only one service break in the match.
Mattek-Sands won five straight games in the first set to force a tiebreak, but that effort was stalled by handfuls of unforced errors and she lost to Pennetta, 7-6 (4), 6-2.
During the last few games Mattek-Sands was cramping — an after-effect, she said, of a sinus infection that has left her lacking energy.
Sunday's schedule has Mattek-Sands facing Schiavone at 1 p.m., followed by Vandeweghe taking on Pennetta and then a doubles match in which Liezel Huber and Melanie Oudin will meet Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci.
Changes in the lineups, though, can be made until an hour before play begins, so Fernandez could use 2009 U.S. Open quarterfinalist Oudin in a singles match.
Fernandez wouldn't tip her hand except to say that she thinks Oudin's style matches up well against Pennetta's.
"Mel's consistency, her speed," Fernandez said. "Pennetta doesn't have the ball that can totally outplay Mel. So it's a very big possibility that if we get to that stage that Melanie would probably play."
All the numbers are against the United States, though. Schiavone is ranked seventh in the world and Pennetta is 23rd. Mattek-Sands is 58th, Oudin is 67th and Vandeweghe is 114th. Schiavone and Pennetta are a combined 42-18 in Fed Cup singles matches while Mattek-Sands, Oudin and Vandeweghe are 6-10.
Italian captain Corrado Barazzutti said that there is no secret as to why his team is one win away from retaining the title. "I have great players," he said. "They are strong players in singles tournaments; they are great players in Fed Cup."