CAGLIARI, Italy—Alisa Kleybanova and Russian Fed Cup coach Anastasia Myskina say the only way that their underdog team can perform well against Italy in this coming weekend’s final is to put pressure aside.
Italy is playing at home in Cagliari, Sardinia, on familiar outdoor red clay, with elite players such as Sara Errani, Roberta Vinci, and Flavia Pennetta. Russia does not have any of its top 11 players on its team; Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev had to name No. 138 Alexandra Panova, No. 186 Kleybanova, No. 231 Irina Khromacheva, and No. 317 Margarita Gasparyan to his squad.
“We not putting pressure on them,” former world No. 2 Myskina told TENNIS.com. “The important thing is to have a good team atmosphere. They want to win and play well, but I told them the main thing to do is to fight.”
Former Top 15 player Kleybanova was at first reticent about playing the tie, as she is only seven months into her comeback from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. But she decided to play as she feels it will good mental test for her. Kleybanova wasn’t asked to compete for the team until late last week.
“I didn’t even have much time mentally to prepare for that because when I was playing last tournament in Moscow, I was thinking only of going back to Florida and get ready for next season. So it was pretty challenging for me to say yes to come and play in clay court outside against the best players in the world,” she told TENNIS.com. “It was something I was looking forward to in a normal tournament, but Fed Cup is very different and it’s much harder for most players than just a normal tournament because the atmosphere is much more stressful land there is a lot of pressure and it’s a lot of responsibility.”
Kleybanova has not played a WTA-level red clay event since 2011, in Rome, but said that she and her team’s performance won’t be tied to how well they hit their groundstrokes, but how they contend with the situation. The Tennis Club Cagliari has sold out both days of the tie.
“Inside we all know the match will be completely different with the crowd and pressure because in training even if you make mistakes you have a big room to change things. Every mistake doesn’t count like in matches,” she said. “This match is not so much about playing skills but how we can go through all this mentally because if mentally we can keep it together, we can find a way to play some good tennis.”
Myskina, who played on two of Russia’s title-winning teams and ended her career with an 18-6 record in Fed Cup, said that while she understood some her compatriots reasons for not playing, she has a different mindset.
“It was their decisions and I could understand [Maria] Kirilenko has been hurt the past two years and Elena [Vesnina] wants to be in Top 20, so good luck, and the same thing with Nastya (Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova), but for me Fed Cup was always in first place no matter how much I was playing.”
Vesnina, Kirilenko, and Pavlyuchenkova all chose to play the WTA Tournament of Champions in Sofia instead of the Fed Cup final. Ekaterina Makarova opted out with an injury, Svetlana Kuznetsova has had trouble with the federation, and Nadia Petrova and Alla Kudryavtseva said they were not asked to play. Kirilenko also said she was too hurt to play and pulled out of Sofia after four games of her first match.