CAGLIARI, Sardinia (AP) — Seventh-ranked Roberta Vinci will take on Alexandra Panova and Sara Errani will face 18-year-old Irina Khromacheva on the opening day of the Fed Cup final between Italy and Russia.
Russia has won the tournament four times in the past 10 years but has traveled to Italy without any of its stars, who instead will play in the Tournament of Champions. Its highest ranked player is Alisa Kleybanova, who at No. 183 is ranked 95 places below Italy's fourth player, Karin Knapp.
"I don't know her very much. I'll see maybe on internet how she plays," Errani said. "She's very young but she's a good player so it won't be easy for sure but we are ready to go on court and give everything.
"We know we are favorite but it's not easy. We know there will be a lot of tension but we will try to focus on our game and try our best. It will be full of people so it will be nice for sure." Khromacheva, Panova and Margarita Gasparyan have never before played for their country.
Italy is in its fifth final in eight years and is the overwhelming favorite to claim its fourth Fed Cup title. "We are favorite in this final but I say many times we play Fed Cup and this kind of competition is very dangerous," Italy captain Corrado Barazzutti said. "We have to play and win. It will be a tough match as any other Fed Cup matches."
The reverse singles are Sunday with Errani taking on Panova and Vinci facing Khromacheva. Vinci and Errani are the No. 1-ranked doubles team in the world but Barazzutti has chosen Flavia Pennetta — who has been a part of three Fed Cup-winning teams — and Knapp to face Kleybanova and Gasparyan.
The best-of-five series starts Saturday.