RIMINI, Italy — The United States was eliminated in the first round of the Fed Cup, losing to Italy 3-2 on Sunday 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 under-manned 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.
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 straight victory over the U.S. after beating the Americans in the Fed Cup finals in 2009 and 2010.
Nadal loses to Zeballos in Chile final: In Vina Del Mar, Chile, Rafael Nadal lost to Horacio Zeballos in three sets in the VTR Open final Sunday, settling for a runner-up finish in his first tournament after being sidelined for seven 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 for his first title on any surface, looking every bit the equal of the seven-time French Open champion.
It was only the fifth singles final that Nadal has lost on clay.
Zeballos matched Nadal shot for shot with no service breaks until the third set, dropping to his back on the red clay surface after winning.
“This is the game of my life,” Zeballos said. “Playing against the best player of all-time, or one of the best in the history of tennis. It’s a dream, unforgettable. I will never forget this moment.”
Nadal spoke briefly after the match, and then prepared to play the doubles final with partner Juan Monaco against the Italian pair of Paolo Lorenzi and Potito Starace.
“It has been one of the most beautiful weeks lately for me after being unable to experience something like this for long time,” Nadal said. “The fact I am here has been a triumph.”
Nadal had most of the support, with fans waving Spanish flags and some wearing T-shirts saying “Vamos Rafa” and “Viva Espana.” The Spaniard has been treated like a native since arriving in Chile for his comeback tournament.
Nadal plays again this week in the Brazil Open in Sao Paulo and later this month on clay in Acapulo, Mexico — all aimed at getting him ready for a run at this eighth French Open title.
Nadal had not dropped a set all week until the final. But he has consistently said his comeback might be a slow one, needing time to regain his speed and match fitness. The knee still bothers him, and he has warned it might be several months before it’s clear if the non-surgical treatment has been effective.
Nadal has $50 million in tour earnings, and Zeballos has won $1.3 million.
CILIC DEFEATS MELZER FOR TITLE: In Zagreb, Croatia, top-seeded Marin Cilic of Croatia defeated Jurgen Melzer of Austria 6-3, 6-1 to win the Zagreb Indoors for the third time.
Cilic, who also won the tournament in 2009 and 2010, captured his ninth career title and improved his record to 17-4 in Zagreb.
Cilic converted four of 12 break points. He broke early for a 2-0 lead and again to lead 5-3 in the first set. Melzer won just one more game by the end of the match.
Open Sud de France
GASQUET BEATS PAIRE IN FINAL: In Montpellier, France, Frenchman Richard Gasquet beat compatriot Benoit Paire 6-2, 6-3 in the Open Sud de France final 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.
The third-seeded Frenchman dropped serve once in the second set but broke Paire three times. He clinched victory when Paire netted a backhand.
This is Gasquet’s ninth career singles title. He also won the Qatar Open in January.
Paire was appearing in only his second final on the main tour. He was runner-up in Belgrade last year.