Palermo, April 22 - Italy beat two-time defending champion Czech Republic 3-1 Monday to reach their fifth Fed Cup final in eight years. Sara Errani, Roberta Vinci, Flavia Penetta and Francesca Schiavone will bid for their fourth victory in November when they face Russia who came back from 2-0 down to beat Slovakia 3-2. Vinci got the winning point in the rubber Monday, beating Lucie Safarova. The Czechs lost in Fed Cup play for the first time since Italy knocked them off in the 2010 semifinals. Russia will be even stiffer opposition. The two nations met for the 2007 Fed Cup title, with Russia taking the trophy in a 4-0 decision. Russia also came away with a 5-0 whitewash in their last match-up two years ago in the semifinals, while the Italians won a 2009 semifinal en route to a title. Italy last reached the Fed Cup final in 2010, beating the United States for a second straight championship. The Italians also topped Belgium for the 2006 crown. Errani and Vinci recorded the most recent triumph in a Renaissance for Italian women's tennis when they won the Australian Open in January. Less than 10 years ago the women's side of the game in Italy was in the doldrums. They hadn't won a major tournament in decades, far less a grand slam event. Then came the start of a recovery, with the three Fed Cup wins followed in 2010 by Italian No. 1 Francesca Schiavone's historic victory in Paris over super-favourite Australian Samantha Stosur. Memories will never fade of Schiavone's celebrations as she crashed to the Roland Garros earth and kissed its famous red clay. The skipping and jumping of Errani and Vinci in Melbourne also claimed a place in fans' hearts after the doubles stalwarts beat Aussie duo Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dell'Acqua to lift Italy's first-ever women's Australian Open title. Errani and Vinci's win was their third slam victory after Roland Garros and the US Open last year. The duo had to battle past fierce opposition in Melbourne before facing home-crowd darlings Barty and Dellacqua in the final. After beating Serena and Venus Williams in the quarter-finals, the Italians dismissed Russians Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina in the semis. Italian tennis pundit Gianni Clerici thinks that even though Vinci is coming into her 30s the pair "could dominate women's doubles for years to come. "Their only serious fearsome rivals are the Williams, with whom they share a number of characteristics, including the balance between individual skill and combined strategy," said the veteran commentator.
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di Giovanni Pastore