Italy close on Fed Cup win
Holders Italy closed in on a third Fed Cup title in five years after taking a commanding 2-0 lead over an under-strength United States team in the opening singles of the best-of-five match final in San Diego.
Italy's top player Francesca Schiavone gave the visitors a flying start by brushing aside untried American teenager Coco Vandeweghe 6-2 6-4 in one hour 23 minutes on the indoor hardcourt surface at the San Diego Sports Arena.
No team has come from 0-2 behind to win the Fed Cup and the Italians are poised to complete another whitewash against the Americans, having swept them 4-0 in last year's final.
"I'm very happy because they played with heart and they won two important matches," Italy captain Corrado Barazzutti said of his team. "So we are 2-0 up but it is not finished, the match. We have to stay focused for tomorrow."
In Sunday's reverse singles, Mattek-Sands is set to face Schiavone while Vandeweghe meets Pennetta before Americans Liezel Huber and Melanie Oudin play Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci in the concluding doubles.
However US captain Mary Joe Fernandez said her lineup could change, noting that Mattek-Sands had suffered from leg cramps.
"We're going to play it by ear," Fernandez added.
Schiavone, the French Open champion and world number seven, had been widely expected to crush Vandeweghe, and she duly delivered after breaking her opponent twice in each set.
"It was a good match for me," Schiavone said after becoming the most successful Italian at the Fed Cup with a win-loss record of 24-14. "I started really well, particularly the first set, and then I went a little bit down.
"But I played a solid game. I was aggressive. It was not easy today for her but I think she can play good tennis because she's very strong, very powerful."
Vandeweghe, making her Fed Cup debut after being chosen ahead of the higher-ranked and more experienced Oudin, was broken in the first and fifth games before losing the opening set in 34 minutes.
Schiavone broke her opponent in the first game of the second when a Vandeweghe forehand sailed wide but the American, ranked a lowly 114th, did well to break back in the eighth.
Vandeweghe however immediately lost serve in the ninth and Schiavone, leading 5-4, coolly served out to love, sealing victory when the American netted a backhand service return prompting the feisty Italian to pump her left fist in celebration before acknowledging her supporters in the crowd.
In the second match, Pennetta broke Mattek-Sands three times to race into a 5-1 lead before the American, roared on by the sparse crowd of just over 3,500, fought back to take an error-littered opening set into a tiebreak.
The Italian world number 23 then regained control, claiming the tiebreak 7-4 when the 58th-ranked American hit a forehand service return wide.
Further breaks of serves were traded in the fourth and fifth games of the second set before Pennetta broke Mattek-Sands twice more to wrap up victory in two hours.
"I'm really happy today because it was not easy," Pennetta said after converting her second match point with a pinpoint backhand service return winner down the line.
"I didn't play my best tennis, but I was running and running and fighting and trying to do my best all the time. I'm just tired now."