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Sunday, November 8, 2009
Updated: November 9, 11:43 AM ET
Team-before-self mentality serves Italians well


REGGIO CALABRIA, Italy -- The Cinderella story of the 2009 U.S. Fed Cup team has come to a disappointing end. The dark cloud cover on Sunday matched the mood of the Americans, rather than the jubilation of the victorious Italians, who won the Fed Cup for only the second time in history.

Flavia Penetta, Italy's leadoff player in the finale being held at Reggio Calabria, lifted her team to an insurmountable 3-0 lead when she hit a final backhand passing shot to take out Melanie Oudin 7-5, 6-2. The fourth singles match scheduled between Francesca Schiavone and Alexa Glatch was immediately scrapped in favor of closing the proceedings with the doubles. The Italians swept the weekend 4-0 when Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci defeated Liezel Huber and Vania King, 4-6, 6-3 (11-9) in a decisive-match tiebreaker.

Now it's time for reflection on a few topics that emerge from this Fed Cup weekend.

Hail Italia

The Italian signoras owned the weekend and they own the Fed Cup. This is not a fluke; this is just desserts (maybe, a little Italian gelato) for a worthy team. The Italians have proven themselves to be a Fed Cup force by reaching the final three of the past four years and winning twice. The victors are now the No. 1-ranked team in Fed Cup competition. On Saturday, Francesca Schiavone called Italian Fed Cup "Il Capitano" Corrado Barazzutti "a God."

It's a hard point to argue, considering the former top-10 player is the best captain in Italy's Fed Cup history. Pennetta could hardly contain her excitement in victory: "For me it's very important to be like a champion in the world. To represent your country, it's something very different." Pennetta and Roberta Vinci qualified to play in Bali this week -- the second tier year-end event on the WTA Tour.

They sent their regrets and put country before self, something U.S. Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez highlighted later in the day: "They play every time. It means that much to them. I think Flavia and one of the other ones qualified for Bali. [It was an] opportunity for her [Pennetta] to end the year in the top 10, and she chose to be here. That shows you how much pride and how much it means to them. So I love that, because that's what you want to see in the players."

Don't get down on Melanie Oudin

Melanie Oudin has been scrutinized for not building on her surprise U.S. Open quarterfinal showing, when she took the tennis world by storm. She was unable to qualify at her next two tour stops. Please, a little consideration. Oudin just turned 18, she's inexperienced and had never before been so successful. It had to be a downer to go from U.S. Open star back to qualifying events simply because her ranking had yet to catch up with the results. If you're going to berate Dinara Safina, an experienced player, and someone with No. 1 distinction, for failing to even look presentable in a Grand Slam final, it's a deserving criticism. But to pick on a newcomer, it's shameful.

Obviously, the jury is still out on Oudin. She might be a bit vertically challenged, but that didn't harm Justine Henin. Oudin possesses the right qualities to be a successful player: She wants it so much that her desire is racing ahead of her experience. Oudin insisted on shouldering all the blame for the American loss this weekend as the lead player of the team, a role she was forced into when Serena Williams couldn't find the time in her busy schedule to show up for her country.

"The final is a big deal, and we all worked really hard to get here," Oudin said. "It's definitely disappointing, and I feel like I let my team down and the whole U.S., too. I feel like I was put in the position -- like playing No. 1 for the U.S. I feel like I could have done better."

Looking for blame, look at Serena

If you are going to withdraw from a Fed Cup final at the last minute, at least have the grace to go home, stay out of the limelight and not rub it into your country's face.

This past week, while a young and enthusiastic American squad was playing its heart out, Serena Williams was in London signing copies of her autobiography at Harrods and was a guest Friday night on the "Jonathan Ross Show," the British equivalent of Leno and Letterman.

Wow, it's tough to be exhausted, isn't it? Sure, there are no guarantees that the U.S. would've won with Williams on hand. But if Williams kept her end of the bargain to lead the team, Oudin might not have felt as much pressure and would've been in better position to pull off at least one point.

When asked if she could understand someone skipping out on the honor of representing the U.S., Oudin said: "I wanted to come here. I wanted to play for my country. Other people, you know, choose different things. Some people, I guess, didn't want to play as badly as I did."

Point to Oudin!