Dechy to lead off for France
World No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo leads the French challenge in Nancy this weekend as last year’s beaten finalists get their 2006 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas campaign underway against Italy.
The draw for this World Group first round tie between France and Italy is as follows:
n Nancy has now been made. Nathalie Dechy will get France's 2006 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas campaign underway against Italy's Francesca Schiavone, before Amelie Mauresmo takes on Flavia Pennetta, with the full draw as follows:
Nathalie Dechy (FRA) v Francesca Schiavone (ITA)
Amelie Mauresmo (FRA) v Flavia Pennetta (ITA)
Amelie Mauresmo (FRA) v Francesca Schiavone (ITA)
Nathalie Dechy (FRA) v Flavia Pennetta (ITA)
Emilie Loit/Amelie Mauresmo (FRA) v Mara Santangelo/Roberta Vinci (ITA)
Champions in 1997 and 2003 and runners-up for the past two seasons, France goes into this World Group first round tie as clear favourite, but is likely to encounter considerable resistance from an emerging Italian side brimming with confidence.
Furthermore, the French quartet has been weakened by injuries to Mary Pierce (foot) and Tatiana Golovin (ankle), leaving Nathalie Dechy, Emilie Loit and Virginie Razzano with the responsibility of providing sufficient support to Mauresmo.
Dechy, ranked No. 24 in the world, has been named by France captain Georges Goven as the home team’s second singles player alongside the Australian Open champion, and she will be take on Italian top player Francesca Schiavone in the opening match on the clay courts of the Palais des Sports Jean Weille on Saturday.
The draw, which took place in Nancy’s town hall on Friday, also pitted Mauresmo against Flavia Pennetta, Italy’s second singles player, in Saturday’s second match.
The local fans will be counting on Mauresmo winning her two singles and hoping that the tie-winning third point comes either from one of the two reverse singles on Sunday or ultimately from the doubles. Should that happen France would have sealed their seventh Fed Cup victory over Italy in seven ties.
Mauresmo, however, was reluctant to take anything for granted. “Italy are really strong right now - they’ve got the best team they’ve ever had,” said the 26-year-old.
“Their players are also all in peak form so it’s going to be difficult. The key for us will be seizing our opportunities when they arise. All five matches are likely to be very close, but hopefully the crowd will get behind us and help us claim a victory.”
Italy captain Corrado Barazzuti, meanwhile, was confident that his team would draw first blood with clay court specialist Schiavone up against an out-of-sorts Dechy. “If we can get in front from the start it will give my players even more confidence,” he said.
But Dechy, who has only won three matches this year, believes she is slowly rediscovering her top form. “In the last few weeks my physical condition has returned to a good level,” explained the Frenchwoman. “I’m really pleased that Georges has picked me for the singles and I’ll do everything I can to justify his decision.”
Schiavone has prevailed in three of her five previous meetings with Dechy, and the world No. 11 is determined to improve that record on Saturday. “Getting the first point on the board is always very important,” Schiavone pointed out. “I am confident I can win but everything depends on how she plays.
“There will be 5,000 supporters cheering her on so it is important that I keep my focus and play my natural game,” she added.
The provisional draw for Sunday sees the singles matches reversed, meaning that Dechy would play Pennetta before Mauresmo and Schiavone do battle in an intriguing contest. Loit and Mauresmo were named as France’s doubles pair, with Italy opting for Mara Santangelo to partner doubles specialist Roberta Vinci.
Both captains are allowed to alter their Sunday choices, and Goven said: “I will consider Saturday’s games before deciding whether to change anything. Mauresmo will, of course, play two singles and hopefully she’ll claim two points. But we mustn’t assume that we will lose the other two singles.”
France missed out on the Fed Cup crown after losing the decisive doubles to Russia in last year’s final, and some now regard this as their weak point. “We’ve been working hard on the doubles all week,” Goven added. “You never know what will happen but if the tie goes to 2-2 we will be ready.”