The Italian Almanac
Italian Sport / Tennis - September 19
Italy were handed their first Fed Cup title when Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne was forced to withdraw through injury in the deciding doubles match on Sunday. The world number two had picked up a knee injury during her victory over Francesca Schiavone earlier in the day but took to the court for the doubles alongside Kirsten Flipkens. However, with the sides on a set apiece and Italy two games up in the third, the pain proved too much for the French Open champion and she succumbed to defeat, allowing the Italians to win the final 3-2.
“This is really something special. We are so happy,” Schiavone told reporters. “I'm sorry for Justine but this sort of thing can always happen.” After the two teams had finished Saturday level at 1-1, victories for Henin-Hardenne and Mara Santangelo on Sunday sent the tie to the wire. Schiavone and Roberta Vinci were just ahead 3-6, 6-2, 2-0 in the decisive doubles when Henin-Hardenne retired.
Italy's victory was just reward for captain Corrado Barazzutti who gambled by giving Santangelo her first Fed Cup singles start in place of Flavia Pennetta, who had only just returned to action after missing the US Open with a wrist injury.
For Italy, who took over the title from Russia, it was an incredible year. A year ago, Italy had to compete in a play-off with the Czech Republic to remain in the World Group. They did not have an easy draw either, beating France in the quarter-finals and then Spain in the semis, both away from home.