SAN DIEGO Nov 7 (Reuters) - Fed Cup holders Italy, living proof that their sum is greater than their parts, entered a new phase in their love affair with the women's team event by clinching the title for a third time in five years on Sunday.
Despite having no great tennis tradition, the experienced Italian line-up beat 17-times winners the United States 3-1 at the San Diego Sports Arena in the best-of-five match final.
"The secret is this is a team which has played with each other a lot and they all respect each other," Italy captain Corrado Barazzutti told Reuters. "And they love to play in this competition.
"In some way, they feel that this competition is their competition, our competition. It is almost like a love affair. They feel it's something very important to play for Italy, for their country."
Italian number two Flavia Pennetta, who secured the winning point for her team with a 6-1 6-2 demolition of 18-year-old American Coco Vandeweghe in the fourth singles rubber, echoed Barazzutti's theme.
"I really enjoy playing for my country and I really enjoy playing for this team," the 28-year-old said after winning her eighth successive Fed Cup match. "We are all friends with each other and we spend so much time together.
"It's so nice to be here with a third Fed Cup title after five years together again in the final."
Pennetta was not all bothered that the Italians outplayed a U.S. team weakened by the absence of top players Serena and Venus Williams for a second successive year in the final.
"Of course, if Serena and Venus want to play, the chances to win are less," the world number 23 said. "It's normal to say something like that. They are really good players, they are really strong.
"But we fight a lot to be here, to have this trophy. Before we played the U.S., we played two important teams and all their best players were there."
Italy beat Ukraine 4-1 in the first round of the world group before sweeping Czech Republic 5-0 in April to book their place in the final.
"It doesn't make any difference if they (the Williams sisters) play or not play," Pennetta said. "Still we have won this unbelievable Fed Cup, and nobody can say nothing about that."
Barazzutti, part of the only Italian men's team to win the Davis Cup in 1976, agreed.
"It's not our problem the Williams don't play against us in this Fed Cup," he said. "Just like last year, we play against the team that is here and so we concentrate on this team.
"We know very well that with the Williams America is a much stronger team but they are not here, so we don't care." (Editing by Patrick Johnston; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)