MILAN, April 28 (Reuters) - Avuncular Fed Cup captain Corrado Barazzutti has quietly overseen a revolution in Italian tennis and now he wants his team to seize the moment and start winning big individual tournaments.
Defending champions Italy, with no great tennis tradition, reached their fourth Fed Cup final in five years at the weekend when they thrashed the Czech Republic 5-0 and now meet the United States again in November’s showpiece.
World number 15 Flavia Pennetta and world number 17 Francesca Schiavone have been the cornerstones of Italy’s success and former French Open semi-finalist Barazzutti now wants them to make a breakthrough on the individual tour.
“This is a team that still has lots more to give and these girls will show it also in the big tournaments,” he told Reuters. “With successes of this calibre you can imagine that this team has a great future.”
Pennetta and Schiavone, who also led Italy to Fed Cup glory in 2006, have won their share of second tier events on the WTA Tour but have never threatened in the grand slams.
Barazzutti, also non-playing captain of the less successful Italian Davis Cup team, is so mild-mannered that he refuses to criticise top players such as Serena and Venus Williams for snubbing his beloved Fed Cup.
He did get angry once, however, when Jimmy Connors ran over to his side of the court in the 1977 U.S. Open semi-final and rubbed off a ball mark with his shoe while Barazzutti was debating with a line judge whether it was out.
The 57-year-old also won Italy’s only Davis Cup in 1976 during the country’s previous golden tennis age when Adriano Panatta won the men’s French Open singles the same year.
Now he thinks similar glory awaits Italian women.
“Our Italian girls are players that can beat anybody. There are no untouchables for them. They play at the same level as the strongest players in the world,” he added.
“We can definitely win the Fed Cup final. The standings are correct. Italy are the strongest team in the world. More than anything, we scare our opponents.”
However, Barazzutti is not making Pennetta or Schiavone favourites for next week’s Rome International or the French Open and Wimbledon which follow.
“For Rome I would say Jelena Jankovic or Svetlana Kuznetsova, for Paris or Wimbledon maybe Justine Henin or Kim Clijsters, but it’s difficult to make a prediction,” he said.
Writing by Mark Meadows; Editing by Pritha Sarkar; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org
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