SAN DIEGO (AP) - Posing for a picture with a slobbering sea lion at the Fed Cup draw at SeaWorld was the easy part for CoCo Vandeweghe.
On Saturday, the 18-year-old Vandeweghe will face French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in the opening match of the Fed Cup final between the underdog United States and defending champion Italy.
Vandeweghe will be making her Fed Cup debut in her hometown.
Sure, she'll be nervous. But captain Mary Joe Fernandez believes Vandeweghe can handle the pressure of going against Italy's top player on the hard court at the San Diego Sports Arena.
Fernandez picked Vandeweghe over Melanie Oudin for No. 2 singles based on her big serves and heavy groundstrokes.
"With her height, her serve, her ability to really hit the ball up here, that's a good choice to start the day," Fernandez said.
Vandeweghe has been part of a Fed Cup team before but didn't play.
"I'm really excited to represent my country tomorrow," she said. "That it's in a finals, it's a great accomplishment. Just to know that Mary Joe and my teammates think that I can beat Francesca tomorrow is great motivation for me. To have that support is wonderful and I can't ask for anything better."
A sea lion named Clyde drew a tennis ball with Vandeweghe's name on it to set the order of play.
"That sea lion experience is something I'll never forget," she said.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the No. 1 U.S. player, will play Italy's No. 2, Flavia Pennetta in the second match Saturday.
Sunday's scheduled matchups are Schiavone vs. Mattek-Sands and Pennetta vs. Vandeweghe, although the captains can change players. The doubles matchup will be Oudin and Liezel Huber vs. Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci.
The 19-year-old Oudin said she was disappointed not to be picked to play singles but understood.
"CoCo has been playing really, really well this week," Oudin said. "The court I think really suits her game, as well as her big serve."
Schiavone said she was "a little bit surprised" with the choice of Vandeweghe, "because I know all the balance from one player to the other one. I think she's young, she's growing up. She played very good this year. I have a good opportunity tomorrow to give the best and to try to take this point."
Italy beat the United States 4-0 in last year's final. The Americans have won 17 Fed Cup titles but none since 2000.
The Fed Cup lost a lot of luster when Serena and Venus Williams dropped out due to injuries.
Vandeweghe, the niece of former NBA star Kiki Vandeweghe, grew up in the luxury San Diego County enclave Rancho Santa Fe and now lives up the coast in Newport Beach.
Vandeweghe had a nice run in the Mercury Insurance Open at Carlsbad in early August, including a three-set upset win over Wimbledon finalist Vera Zvonareva, before losing to Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova.
"We all know CoCo's got game," Huber said earlier in the week. "She's got a really bright future."