Russia, without top players, takes on Italy in Fed Cup final
MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia will be missing top players Svetlana Kuznetsova and Maria Sharapova when it faces Italy in the Fed Cup final next week.
Russia selected its 12th highest-ranked player, Alexandra Panova, as its main singles player on Wednesday for the Nov. 2-3 final in Cagliari, Sardinia.
The 138th-ranked Panova will be making her Fed Cup debut, along with Irina Khromacheva (231st) and Margarita Gasparyan (317th). Only 186th-ranked Alisa Kleybanova has played a Fed Cup event, three years ago.
Maria Kirilenko, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Elena Vesnina, who led Russia to its sixth final in 10 years, all preferred to appear in the Tournament of Champions, which starts Tuesday in Bulgaria.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Kuznetsova refused to play for personal reasons, while No. 3 Sharapova has been sidelined by a season-ending shoulder injury.
Meanwhile, Italy will send out its four best players - Sara Errani, Roberta Vinci, Flavia Pennetta and Karin Knapp. All are ranked in the top 50.
''We practically have no chance to win the title,'' Russia captain Shamil Tarpischev said. ''We are going not to win but to warm up our young players.''
Tarpischev told Russian daily Sport-Express he cannot blame the players for their refusal to play.
''We are not football or ice hockey players. Even if we win in Cagliari, no one will pay much attention to our victory,'' he said.
Italy has won the title three times. Russia is a four-time champion and beat Italy in the 2007 final.
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