Brindisi, Italy (SportsNetwork.com) - Serena Williams needed to win three matches this weekend to propel the United States back into the World Group of the Fed Cup, but the world's top-ranked player managed to win only two.
Instead, Italy will remain in the World Group after the doubles team of Sara Errani and Flavia Pennetta thumped Williams and Alison Riske, 6-0, 6-3, in Sunday's decisive doubles rubber for a 3-2 victory.
Maybe Williams needed to play without a teammate.
The 19-time Grand Slam champion beat Camila Giorgi to open the singles action on Saturday, then gave the U.S. a 2-1 lead Sunday by rallying for a 4-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 triumph over Errani, who had won her opening singles rubber on Saturday against Lauren Davis in a 6-1, 6-2 rout.
However, Pennetta again drew the Italians even on Sunday with a 6-1, 6-1 pounding of Christina McHale.
Riske was chosen to play alongside Williams in the doubles match, but the Italian duo dominated from the start. Pennetta and Errani won the first five games in a mere 17 minutes, then rebounded from a break down in the second set to hand Williams her first-ever loss in 17 career Fed Cup matches.
The Americans will play in World Group II again next year. The U.S. had beaten Argentina, 4-1, in a World Group II first-round encounter earlier this year to reach this weekend's playoff stage.
Italy has now beaten the United States in five straight Fed Cup ties, including back-to-back finals in 2009 and 2010. The Americans still own a 9-5 advantage in the all-time series.