Italy wins Federation Cup

Italy won their first Federation Cup on Sunday beating Belgium 3-2 at the Spiroudome in Charleroi, France.

Updated: February 25, 2007 11:36 IST
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Charleroi, France:Italy won their first Federation Cup on Sunday beating Belgium 3-2 at the Spiroudome in Charleroi after Justine Henin-Hardenne was forced to retire with an injury during the deciding doubles match. The Italian duo of Schiavone and Roberta Vinci led Henin-Hardenne and Flipkens 3-6 6-2 2-0 when Henin-Hardenne retired. The final of the Federation Cup between hosts Belgium and Italy at the Spiroudome in Charleroi was delicately poised at one rubber each going into the second and deciding day on Sunday. Belgium were without world number four Kim Clijsters who played in both of Belgium's games leading to the final. The world number four was part of the support team as she recovered from a wrist injury, which has sidelined her for two months. Nervous start Justine Henin-Hardenne faced Italy's Francesca Schiavone in the day's opening match and both women started nervously, dropping their opening service games. The world number two settled the better and made an important break in the fourth game to go 3-1 ahead. The Italian world number 14 broke back in the ninth game, but Henin-Hardenne took the set 6-4 in 51 minutes when Schiavone double faulted. The Belgian found herself a double break and 4-1 down in the second set, but Henin-Hardenne, who reached all four Grand Slam finals in 2006, battled back to break in the sixth game and again in the tenth to level at 5-all. After two hours on court, Henin-Hardenne completed a 6-4 7-5 victory when Schiavone surrendered her serve once more and Belgium led Italy 2-1 in the best-of-five final. First Fed Cup final Italy, appearing in their first Fed Cup final, now needed Mara Santangelo, a late replacement for the injured Flavia Pennetta, to beat Belgian Kirsten Flipkens in the second singles. Both players dropped their serve twice and a tie-break was needed. Flipkens took it seven points to three to put Belgium one set away from regaining the Fed Cup. But Santangelo, ranked 33rd in the world, fought back to take the second set 6-3 after claiming the only break of the set in the fourth game. Flipkens, who was suffering with an injury in the latter stages of the match, collapsed completely in the deciding set and Santangelo's 6-7 (3-7) 6-3 6-0 win in two hours 14 minutes meant the final was to be decided by the doubles. Knee injury Henin-Hardenne, with an ailing right knee, and the tired Flipkens played Schiavone and doubles specialist Roberta Vinci in the decider. The first seven games went with serve until the Belgians broke Vinci in the eighth game and then Henin-Hardenne held her serve to take the opening set 6-3. The Italians targeted Flipkens and broke the 20-year-old Belgian in the fourth game, and again in the eighth to level the decider at one set all. The capacity crowd was on the edge of their seats, but with Italy leading two games to love, Henin-Hardenne, who was wearing a leg support, injured her leg once more and walked to the side of the court and told Belgium captain Carl Maes she could no longer continue. Henin-Hardenne's knee injury therefore allowed Italy to emerge triumphant 3-2 and win their first Fed Cup on their first appearance in the final. (AP)

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