Cagliari, Italy (SportsNetwork.com) - Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani won singles matches Saturday to give Italy a commanding 2-0 lead over a depleted Russian squad in the Fed Cup final.
It was supposed to be easy for the host Italians with top-15 players Vinci and Errani taking on a Russian team that featured no players within the top 135.
Vinci, however, struggled mightily against No. 136 Alexandra Panova in a first rubber that went 3 hours and 13 minutes. The 13th-ranked Italian finally prevailed in a 5-7, 7-5, 8-6 decision.
Errani, ranked seventh in the world, then took care of Irina Khromacheva with a 6-1, 6-4 triumph in a much more manageable 85 minutes.
The Russians are without an injured Maria Sharapova, while battled-tested veterans Maria Kirilenko, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Elena Vesnina and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova all were also unavailable for the weekend.
Panova is the highest-ranked player for the Russians and she had Vinci on the ropes Saturday with a lead of 7-5, 5-2. Vinci, though, battled back by winning the next seven games and appeared in total control until Panova won three straight for a 3-2 lead in the third.
It was tight from there and Vinci saved four match points before finally putting the match away.
Errani had it a little easier, winning the first set in a mere 39 minutes. She had a slight hiccup in the second set, trailing 3-4, then won the final three games to finish off the sweep of the first day.
Reverse singles on Sunday will give Errani the first chance to clinch the title for the Italians. She'll face Panova before Vinci takes on Khromacheva. The doubles rubber is slated to feature Karin Knapp and Flavia Pennetta for the hosts against Alisa Kleybanova and Margarita Gasparyan.
The Italians are in position to claim a fourth Fed Cup title since 2006, while Russia will need to stage a dramatic comeback to claim the crown for the fifth time in 10 years.
Italy previously won the title in 2006, 2009 and 2010, while Russia won consecutive titles in 2004-05 and again in 2007-08. The Russians' 2007 crown came against Italy.
Russia is 5-1 all-time against Italy in Fed Cup play.