Italy beats USA 3-2 in Fed Cup match
• The United States was eliminated in the first round of the Fed Cup, losing to Italy 3-2 in Rimini, Italy, when Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci defeated Varvara Lepchenko and Liezel Huber in the decisive doubles match.
Errani and Vinci, the top-ranked doubles team, won 6-2, 6-2 against an understrength American team. The U.S. was without Serena and Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens because of injuries.
“I’m really proud of the team, they played their hearts out every single match,” U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez said. “We knew it was going to be an uphill battle.”
The U.S. led 2-1 after Lepchenko beat Errani 7-5, 6-2 in Sunday’s first reverse singles. But Vinci stopped Jamie Hampton 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 to set up the crucial doubles for Errani and Vinci, who ended the best-of-five World Group series.
“They both played a great match and Roberta did a couple of really exceptional shots at the net,” Italy captain Corrado Barazzutti said. “I don’t really say much to them when they play, they’re the best, what can you say? I try not to bother them when they play, they know each other so well.”
Italy will host defending champion Czech Republic in the semifinals, a rematch of last year’s semis. The Czech Republic defeated visiting Australia 4-0.
In the other semifinal, it’s Slovakia at Russia. Slovakia topped host Serbia 3-2, and host Russia downed Japan 3-2.
Italy was a big favorite to earn a third consecutive victory over the U.S.
Excellent play from Lepchenko, however, put the U.S. ahead after an error-strewn performance from Errani.
Lepchenko raced ahead 4-2 before Errani rallied to lead 5-4 and was serving for the set. But the 21st-ranked American broke again and took the next two games, securing the opening set when Errani hit a shot into the net.
Lepchenko moved in front 4-1 in the second set to earn a second straight victory in her Fed Cup debut after beating Vinci in three sets on Saturday.
Vinci then kept Italy in the series, despite playing with a thigh injury from Saturday’s loss. After inconsistent play in the first two sets, Vinci pulled ahead 5-0 in the third.
Vinci played even better in doubles and was particularly sharp at the net as she improved her record to 18-0 in Fed Cup doubles— the best in the competition’s history.
“It’s maybe the best day of my career,” Vinci said. “We really wanted it. We were very tired but today we managed to show a lot of heart, a lot of personality. We are a great team.”
• Rafael Nadal lost to Horacio Zeballos in three sets in the VTR Open final in Vina Del Mar, Chile, settling for a runner-up finish in his first tournament after being sidelined for seventh months with a left knee injury. Nadal was an overwhelming favorite, shooting for this 37th singles title on clay. But Zeballos won 6-7 (2), 7-6 (6), 6-4.
• Top-seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia defeated Jurgen Melzer of Austria 6-3, 6-1 in Zagreb, Croatia, to win the Zagreb Indoors for the third time. Cilic captured his ninth career title.
• Frenchman Richard Gasquet beat compatriot Benoit Paire 6-2, 6-3 in the Open Sud de France final in Montpellier, France, for his second title this season. Gasquet broke Paire twice for a 5-2 lead and took the opening set when a backhand return from Paire sailed wide.
Portland’s Dike set for knee surgery
• Portland Timbers forward Bright Dike will miss a significant part of the Major League Soccer season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee Tuesday in a preseason match against Seattle. The Timbers said Friday that he will have surgery today.
• Nigeria won its first African Cup of Nations title since 1994, beating Burkina Faso 1-0 in Johannesburg on Sunday Mba’s left-footed volley off a rebound in the 40th minute. Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi captained the Super Eagles when they won in 1994. Nigeria also won the title in 1980. Following its victory before a crowd of about 87,000 at Soccer City, 52nd-ranked Nigeria advanced to a first-round group with Spain, Uruguay and Tahiti at June’s FIFA Confederations Cup in Brazil.
• Paul Gascoigne is recovering in a hospital in the United States after reacting badly to a detox program in his battle to beat alcoholism, according to people close to the former England midfielder. Gascoigne, who starred in the 1990 World Cup, flew to Arizona this week to receive treatment for alcohol addiction after a relapse.
Blues goaltender Halak ready to play
• The St. Louis Blues activated goalie Jaroslav Halak from injured reserve, a signal that struggling Brian Elliott is headed for some time on the bench. Halak is 3-0 with a 2.10 goals-against average and two shutouts this season. He had been sidelined by a groin strain.
• Miami hired Hurlie Brown as its running backs coach. Brown replaces Terry Richardson, who left the Hurricanes last week for a job with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
• Three-time world table tennis champion Zhuang Zedong, a key figure in the groundbreaking “pingpong diplomacy” between China and the United States, died Sunday, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported. He was 72 and had struggled with cancer since 2008.
— From wire reports