Sara Errani, Italy clinch Fed Cup title
CAGLIARI, Sardinia -- Italy won a fourth Fed Cup title with a whitewash 4-0 victory over Russia on Sunday as No. 7-ranked Sara Errani cruised past Alisa Kleybanova before Flavia Pennetta and Karin Knapp won the dead doubles rubber.
It took Errani less than an hour to win 6-1, 6-1 against the No. 183-ranked Kleybanova, who has only recently returned to the circuit following treatment for Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Pennetta and Knapp beat youngsters Margarita Gasparyan and Irina Khromacheva 4-6, 6-2, 10-4.
"It's down to a marvelous team and above all the fact that we are always united," Errani said. "We are very happy. It was a very good week for us. I am happy with how I played today.
"I know Alisa, she is a great player, so with a lot of tension every point is important for us and it was not easy but I am really happy. I was focused on every point, there was tension, there is a lot of people here and it means a lot for us."
Italy became an overwhelming favorite when Russia traveled without any of its top players, due to injuries and a scheduling conflict with the Tournament of Champions in Bulgaria.
However, Roberta Vinci and Errani struggled at times before beating Fed Cup debutants Alexandra Panova and Khromacheva, respectively, on a difficult opening day Saturday to give Italy a commanding lead.
Panova was scheduled to play Errani but Russia captain Shamil Tarpischev opted to replace her with the more experienced Kleybanova.
The 24-year-old, who was ranked 20th before her battle with cancer, was given a warm reception as she walked onto the court.
However, she had no response to some fantastic play from Errani, who dropped just two games and earned five breaks. A stunning drop-volley handed Errani two match points and although Kleybanova saved one, she netted a volley on the second.
"I knew I had to play yesterday after the two matches," Kleybanova said. "But there was no sort of pressure on me. I tried to do my best but this is the first official match I've played on clay since 2011. I tried to do my best but Sara was really in form.
"(Corrado) Barazzutti is a captain who really understands his role. He's certainly one of the best. And the girls are really close to each other. They have so much respect."
Italy is now level with Russia with four Fed Cup titles, just one behind Spain, but 13 behind the United States. Australia and the Czech Republic have seven titles each.
Barazzutti is level with Vicky Berner, Billie Jean King and Miguel Margets with four titles as captain.
"This is a really great group which has now gone down in history in the sport," Barazzutti said. "They are girls who are attached to the national team, you win with that kind of spirit.
"Sara was as ever a real champion. They were all brilliant and I have to thank everyone who contributed to this project and this success, from the coaches to the medical staff. I try to do what I can but (the girls) are the real protagonists. They showed me that even during the season."