2013-11-03 03:01 AM
CAGLIARI, Italy (AP) -- Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani struggled but prevailed in the opening singles against an under-strength Russia to put Italy on the brink of a fourth Fed Cup title on Saturday.
Vinci, the winner of nine WTA singles titles, overcame a surprisingly tough challenge from Alexandra Panova, who has reached only one WTA final. Vinci rallied from 5-2 down in the second set and saved four match points to win 5-7, 7-5, 8-6 in 3 hours, 13 minutes.
Errani, playing in her second Fed Cup final, suffered somewhat in the second set before defeating Irina Khromacheva, making her cup debut in the final, 6-1, 6-4.
Russia has won the tournament four times in the past 10 years but has traveled to Italy without any of its top players, with some of them injured and some instead playing in the Tournament of Champions in Bulgaria.
Italy needs one more victory on Sunday to add to its Fed Cup titles in 2006, 2009 and 2010.
Russia's youngsters showed they'd come to play when Panova brushed off an early break to win the first set with a love game. Panova continued to dominate and held three match points at 5-2 in the second set. But with teammates Flavia Pennetta and Karin Knapp furiously urging her on, Vinci managed to avoid being broken for a sixth successive time.
That sparked the turnaround, as the Italian won the next seven games.
But Panova again fought back and had another match point at 5-4 in the final set but hit a backhand wide.
Vinci wasted her first match point when she hit a forehand long but secured the victory when Panova put a backhand volley wide, leaving the Italian in tears of joy.
Seventh-ranked Errani won the opening set comfortably but No. 236 Khromacheva seemed to grow in confidence and earned her first break in their match when the Russian lobbed long after three delightful drop shot winners.
But Khromacheva failed to hold her service game and, although she broke again, a double fault handed Errani another break.
From that point on, Errani cruised, winning the next three games and sealing the match with a powerful forehand.