PARIS (AFP) — Former world number one Amelie Mauresmo and Italy's Flavia Pennetta clashed in an ugly row over sportsmanship on Saturday as the Fed Cup was plunged into controversy.
Mauresmo insisted the Italian woman should have been kicked out of their opening rubber before going on to lose 2-6, 7-6 (9/7), 6-4 in Orleans on the first day of their World Group I clash.
Mauresmo was furious that Pennetta appeared to insult the chair umpire after a shot she thought was good was ruled out in the crucial second set tiebreak.
"At that moment, I didn't really see and cotton on," said Mauresmo, who indicated that when she did look up Pennetta appeared to have mouthed an insult at the chair, flicking her middle finger for good measure.
"She gave the finger - she should have been removed right away," insisted former Wimbledon and Australian Open champion Mauresmo.
The point gave the Frenchwoman a match point but in the controversy she served up a double fault and then slumped to defeat.
Pennetta, who did receive a warning for her conduct, said she was sorry.
"I am not pleased with myself but that's the first time such a thing has happened to me - it was a gruelling match from the start and I lost control as I really thought the ball was in," said the Italian.
Adding to their problems, France, the two-time Fed Cup champions, then slipped 2-0 down when Fransesca Schiavone saw off Alize Cornet 6-1, 2-6, 8-6.
The winner of the France-Italy clash will meet defending champions Russia or China in the next round.
Russia eased into a 2-0 lead in Moscow against a Chinese side wrecked by injuries.
Elena Dementieva beat world number 273 Zhang Shuai 6-3, 6-0 with Svetlana Kuznetsova seeing off Yan Zi 6-2, 6-4.
"We were considered favourites ahead of the match and our main task was to avoid slackness," Dementieva said. "Luckily we managed to keep our concentration throughout the matches to gain a comfortable 2-0 lead."
China's efforts were hampered by the absence of number one Zheng Jie because of a wrist injury she suffered in the Australian Open.
In Surprise, Arizona, the United States and Argentina were level 1-1 after victories for American veteran Jill Craybas and Argentinian Gisela Dulko.
The US team, with Mary Joe Fernandez making her coaching debut, are without the Williams sisters, but 34-year-old Craybas got the hosts off to a winning start with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Betina Jozami.
Dulko then downed 17-year-old Melanie Oudin 6-2, 7-5.
The winner of the tie will book a semi-final match against whoever emerges from this weekend's showdown between Spain and the Czech Republic in Brno.
The Czechs and Spanish were level at 1-1 after the first day. Petra Kvitova defeated Carla Suarez Navarro 6-4, 6-4 before Iveta Benesova slumped to Nuria Llagostera Vives 6-1, 1-6, 4-6.
In World Group II, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic gave Serbia a 2-0 lead over Japan in Belgrade.
French Open champion Ivanovic overcame Ai Sugiyama 6-4, 6-4 with Jankovic, the recently demoted world number one, cruising to an impressive 6-1, 6-0 victory against 18-year-old Ayumi Morita, ranked 86.
Elsewhere, Slovakia lead Belgium 2-0 while the ties between Switzerland and Germany as well as Ukriane and Israel are both level at 1-1.
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