RIMINI, Italy -- Varvara Lepchenko won on her Fed Cup debut to put the United States level at 1-1 against Italy on Saturday, after Sara Errani beat Jamie Hampton.
Lepchenko beat Vinci 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 with the Italian appearing to struggle with cramp in a dramatic final set which had seven breaks of serve.
Vinci twice had treatment on court as she fought back from 5-1 down in the third to go 5-5. Lepchenko immediately broke back and served the match out.
"Roberta came back more because I was losing my focus," Lepchenko said. "I really lost my focus and got a bit distracted, which happens a lot to a lot of players. I just kept on fighting, said to myself it's not the end of the match, you can still win it.
"I'm really proud of myself, of how I handled everything today. I went out with the mentality that 'oh, these people are cheering for me."'
Lepchenko, who is originally from Uzbekistan, moved to the U.S. in 2001 and claimed political asylum. She officially became a U.S. citizen in 2011 and was part of the team at the London Olympics.
"I feel amazing to be part of this team, to have so much spiritual support behind me," Lepchenko said. "There's this feeling that I can't let my team down, so I try even harder, more than if I was playing for myself. The team is really important for me.
"I wasn't that nervous, because of my experience in the Olympics, where I was super nervous and I told myself I wasn't going to let emotions ruin my chances here. I was a bit stiff at the beginning, but then I got into it."
Errani accounted for Hampton 6-2, 6-1.
Italy is favoured for a third successive victory over the U.S. after winning successive Fed Cup finals in 2009 and '10, to end a run of nine successive defeats.
"We're going to try our hearts out tomorrow," U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez said. "I'm really proud of how she approached the match and how disciplined she was. It's not easy the first time, especially when you're playing with a crowd from another country, and she did a good job blocking it out.
Italy will hope Vinci recovers for Sunday's reverse singles.
"I hope it's just a bit of cramp, but they're treating her and that wants a bit of time," Italy captain Corrado Barazzutti said. "Roberta made a really great effort. She was injured but she played the last few games with all of her heart."