Team of Destiny?
Upon reading this, many of you are likely to roll your eyes and say, There he goes again. . . But my most recent post at ESPN is a call-out for the Fed Cup, the final of which will be played in a month,with Italy hosting the US at Reggio Calabria, Italy.
The surface will be red clay, and the stadium capacity is 5400. As we all remember from second grade, Italy is shaped like a boot. Reggio Calabria is the corn on the little toe of the foot, so if you've always wanted to visit or return to Italy, I'd say this is a good time to consider it (despite the imagery I just called upon). So start checking those fall discount tickets. I'd be tempted by this, but then I'm the kind of tourist who likes to get out there in the countryside when I travel; I can take standing in front of a painting, chin in hand, or wandering around a dark and musty cathedral, commenting on the stained glass windows, for only so long. Which is, not very.
That the American women reached the final is a saga unto itself; if you check the excellent ITF/FC home page and start clicking around, you'll see that Team USA is one that anyone could love. It's crafted a story this year to rival the Bad News Bears, calling upon a dizzying array of largely unknown players to win two consecutive ties that went to the last rubber (in Fed Cup, that's the doubles). Meanwhile, mighty Russia, with it's multiple-Grand Slam titlists and wildly talented players is on the sidelines - thanks to the Italian squad, which has a fairly inspiring tale of its own.
Italian players have largely had a reputation for punching below their weight; the recent Fed Cup teams punch above it. Flavia Penetta and Francesca Schiavone are the nucleus of a team that has been to the final for three of the past four years, and won one title - the first for Italy in Fed Cup history. The squad has great team spirit.
Remember, Melanie Oudin first popped onto the radar in Fed Cup earlier this year, when she won a critical fourth rubber (with Argentina leading, 2-1) to keep the tie alive for the doubles team that ultimately clinched the win for the US - it was the performance that launched the squad on a path that ends in early November in Reggio Calabria.
And here's an interesting historical fact. Italy has never won a Fed Cup match against the USA. But in the 1986 quarterfinal in Prague, Italy took a surprise 1-0 lead when Sandra Cecchini handed Chris Evert her first ever Fed Cup singles defeat, ending a 29-match undefeated streak, before USA hit back to win.