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TENNIS

Vinci will lead off for Italy in Fed Cup final

Cagliari, Sardinia (SportsNetwork.com) - The 2013 Fed Cup final between host Italy and shorthanded Russia will commence Saturday with an opening singles rubber between Roberta Vinci and Alexandra Panova.

The best-of-five affair will be staged outdoors on red clay at Cagliari Tennis Club in Sardinia.

Vinci-Panova will be followed by a rubber between the hosts' Sara Errani and Russian Irina Khromacheva.

On Sunday, reverse singles will pit the world No. 7 Errani versus Panova and the 13th-ranked Vinci against Khromacheva, while the doubles bout currently has an Italian tandem of Karin Knapp and Flavia Pennetta taking on a Russian duo of Margarita Gasparyan and Alisa Kleybanova.

A depleted Russian team is playing without anyone ranked inside the top 135. A bevy of women, including Maria Sharapova, Maria Kirilenko, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Elena Vesnina, and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, were unavailable this week.

Team Italy is captained by Corrado Barazzutti, while the Russians are skippered by long-time mentor Shamil Tarpischev.

The Italians are seeking their fourth Fed Cup title in eight years, while the Russians are seeking a fifth championship in 10 years.

Italy beat the two-time reigning champion Czech Republic 3-1 in the semis back in April.

Russia is 5-1 all-time versus Italy, including a 5-0 win in a semifinal two years ago in Moscow. The Russians also beat the Italians in the World Group final, 4-0, in Moscow back in 2007.