MOSCOW, Sept 12 (Reuters) - Russia are strongly favoured to capture a third Fed Cup title in four years when they take on holders Italy in the Moscow final this weekend.
World number two and losing U.S. Open finalist Svetlana Kuznetsova heads the home team, while Anna Chakvetadze, who reached her first grand slam semi-final at Flushing Meadows last week, should also play a major role for the hosts.
Even without world number four Maria Sharapova, who is nursing a shoulder injury, the Russians should be too strong for last year’s surprise winners Italy, who do not have a player ranked in the world’s top 20.
Russia captain Shamil Tarpishchev, however, has warned his players against overconfidence.
“It looks easy, but it’s not,” said Tarpishchev, who is gunning for a unique double by trying to win the Fed and Davis Cups in the same year.
“We have to be careful and play smart, otherwise Italy could take advantage of our mistakes.”
Italy won their first Fed Cup last year when they beat heavy favourites Belgium 3-2 in the final after Justine Henin was forced to withdraw from the deciding doubles through injury.
World number 25 Francesca Schiavone leads the visiting squad along with Mara Santangelo, Roberta Vinci and Flavia Pennetta, who replaced out of form Tathiana Garbin.
The Russians, aiming for their third Fed Cup crown following triumphs in 2004 and 2005, enjoy a 3-0 lead over Italy in head-to-head meetings, including a comfortable 4-1 victory in their last clash two years ago.
Schiavone and Santangelo were the only players from either side to feature in that tie in Brindisi and the talismanic Schiavone should carry her nation’s hopes once again, this time on Moscow clay at the Luzhniki arena.
“It’s going to be very tough. They have some of the best players in the world, but I will give my best for Italy,” said Schiavone, the heroine of the 3-2 semi-final victory over France in April when she won all three of her matches.