| By Long Island Tennis Magazine Staff

The United States will face Italy in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group First Round action, beginning this Saturday, Feb. 9 at 3:00 p.m. local time on an indoor clay court at the 105 Stadium in Rimini, Italy. Opening the tie will be world number 64 Jamie Hampton, who will be making her live Fed Cup singles debut. Hampton, who has previously served as a Fed Cup practice partner, will face world number seven and 2012 French Open finalist Sara Errani. Hampton and Errani have met once on the WTA Tour—in the first round of the U.S. Open Series event in Cincinnati in 2010, where Errani won the meeting 6-4, 6-2. Hampton enters Fed Cup with an appearance in the third round of the 2013 Australian Open and a semifinal showing at the WTA event in Auckland, New Zealand, the week prior. Errani will be playing in her eleventh Fed Cup singles match (6-4 record), but just her fifth live singles rubber. She is 1-3 in live singles rubbers.

“I am excited to make my Fed Cup debut in a live singles match," said Hampton. "Errani is a great clay court player and is having a lot of success. The match will start off level, so I’ll go out there and give it my all. It should be a good start.”

The second singles rubber will feature world number 21 Varvara Lepchenko and world number 16 Roberta Vinci. Like Hampton, Lepchenko will also be making her Fed Cup debut. Lepchenko reached the fourth round of the French Open last year, her career-best Grand Slam singles result, and reached the doubles semifinals at the 2013 Australian Open. Lepchenko has been living in the U.S. since 2001 after receiving political asylum. She officially changed her nationality in 2007 to play for the U.S and became an official U.S. citizen in September 2011. Vinci holds a 1-3 record in Fed Cup singles matches and has never won a live singles match (0-3 record). Vinci is also a doubles specialist and currently ranked number one in doubles after winning the 2013 Australian Open doubles title with Errani, who is currently ranked second in doubles. Lepchenko and Vinci have never faced each other on the WTA Tour.

“Errani, as we all know, plays the best on clay and moves very well," said U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez. "Through the years, the Americans have really developed on clay and like playing on clay. Everyone on my team has enjoyed practicing on it this week. They have had good results on it, as well. Unlike ten years ago, where everyone was very apprehensive about clay, we are looking forward to it and we like the challenge.”

In this tie, the United States makes its return to the World Group after starting its 2012 Fed Cup campaign in World Group II for the first time ever. The match will mark the 12th matchup between the U.S. and Italy in Fed Cup competition. The two countries last met in the 2010 Fed Cup final in San Diego and also faced each other in the 2009 final in Reggio Calabria, Italy, both won by the Italians. The U.S., however, leads the overall series, 9-2. The U.S. last won against Italy in the 2003 World Group quarterfinal in Washington D.C. The winner of this tie will advance to the semifinals, held April 20-21.

This will be the fifth year as U.S. captain for Fernandez. Fernandez led the U.S. to consecutive Fed Cup finals appearances in her first two years as captain (2009 and 2010), where the team faced Italy both times. She was the first U.S. captain to accomplish that feat since Marty Riessen in 1986-87. Fernandez holds a 6-4 record as U.S. Fed Cup captain.

Tennis Channel will provide exclusive live coverage of the U.S. Fed Cup team's first-round competition against Italy, with complete telecasts Saturday, Feb. 9, and Sunday, Feb. 10. Tennis Channel will feature two singles matches on Saturday, and two singles matches and the doubles match Sunday. Tennis Channel will carry all matches live, beginning at 9:00 a.m. ET on Saturday and 7:30 a.m. ET on Sunday. Coverage from 105 Stadium Rimini, Italy, is as follows (subject to change):

Saturday, Feb. 9
►9:00 a.m. ♦ Live Singles #1
►11:00 a.m. ♦ Live Singles #2

Sunday, Feb. 10
►7:30 a.m. ♦ Live Singles #3
►9:30 a.m. ♦ Live Singles #4
►11:30 a.m. ♦ Live Doubles

The United States leads all nations with 17 Fed Cup titles, the last coming in 2000, and holds a 142-32 all-time Fed Cup record. The United States holds a 46-3 record in the first round or first match of the year since Fed Cup competition began in 1963. All U.S. losses occurred since the World Group format was introduced in 1995. Italy, Fed Cup winner in 2006, 2009 and 2010, enters 2013 after losing to defending champions Czech Republic in last year's semifinals. The Italian team is captained by Corrado Barazzutti and features Errani, Vinci, Karin Knapp and Nastassja Burnett.