Italy Stuns France to Reach Fed Cup Semis
Published February 08, 2009 12:00
Defending champions and heavy favorites Russia breezed into the semifinals of Fed Cup by BNP Paribas over the weekend, whitewashing a depleted Chinese team in their first round tie, 5-0. Elsewhere around the world, Italy pulled off a lopsided upset over France, while the Czechs won, too.
Russia fielded four different players for its four singles rubbers against China and they all passed with flying colors. Svetlana Kuznetsova kicked Day 1 off with a 62 64 victory over Yan Zi, followed by Elena Dementieva's 63 60 rout of Zhang Shuai; on Day 2, Anna Chakvetadze beat Yan, 61 62, followed by the young Alisa Kleybanova's 61 61 win over Sun Tiantian. The Russians, who have won the Fed Cup four of the last five years - 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008 - completed the blankout with Dementieva and Kuznetsova's 16 64 64 doubles victory over Sun and Yan.
"It was a very solid performance for us, especially playing at home in Moscow," said Dementieva, one of five Russians currently in the Top 10 on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. "It was a nice experience playing doubles, too. I hadn't played for a long time. It'll help us in the semifinals or the final, if we need it."
Italy completes 5-0 victory over France, Czechs advance
France and Italy sent strong teams to the indoor hardcourts of the Palais du Sport in Orléans, France, and with both teams having won the Fed Cup before - France in 1997 and 2003, Italy in 2006 - things seemed headed for a close encounter. Day 1's singles rubbers were extremely tight but Italy emerged with a 2-0 lead, with Flavia Pennetta saving match point in the second set and rallying from 4-1 down in the third set to dispatch Amélie Mauresmo, 26 76(7) 64, and Francesca Schiavone outlasting Alizé Cornet in a see-saw encounter, 61 26 86.
"It was a very tough match today. Amélie was playing very well. Last year she wasn't playing like this - she has improved a lot in the last two months," Pennetta said. "I was nervous in the beginning because everyone expected the first point from me. I just tried to put everything out there, and now I'm totally dead!"
"I played very well, but I want to say that Cornet is a great player and a great person, so she'll have her time," Schiavone said. "I'm very happy. I didn't play so well in the start of the year. I'm happy not just for me but also for the team."
The drama in the reverse singles rubbers was nothing like those matches but the winners were the same, as Pennetta routed Cornet, 62 62, and Sara Errani beat Mauresmo, 63 64. Errani and Roberta Vinci completed the rout with a 64 64 doubles win over French pairing Severine Brémond and Nathalie Dechy.
The Czechs, playing in the World Group for the first time since 2004, made it to the semifinals for the first time since 1997 with a 4-1 upset win over Spain. The teams were tied after Day 1, as Petra Kvitova beat Carla Suárez Navarro, 64 64, and Nuria Llagostera Vives downed Iveta Benesova, 16 61 64; on Day 2 it was Czech-mate as Lucie Safarova defeated Suárez Navarro, 64 63; Kvitova beat Llagostera Vives, 64 75; and the doubles team of Benesova and Kveta Peschke beat Lourdes Domínguez Lino and María José Martínez Sánchez, 64 62.
The last World Group first round tie saw the United States edging Argentina, 3-2. The tie was even after the singles rubbers, with Argentina's Gisela Dulko beating both Jill Craybas and Melanie Oudin but her countrywoman, Betina Jozami, falling to both Americans; Julie Ditty and Liezel Huber closed it out for the American squad, beating Dulko and Jozami in the deciding doubles rubber, 62 63.
The semifinals, which take place in April, will pit Russia against Italy and the Czech Republic against the United States.
Star-studded Serbian team among World Group II winners
Winners in World Group II action were Slovakia, 4-1 winners over Belgium; Germany, 3-2 winners over Switzerland; the Ukraine, 3-2 winners over Israel; and Serbia - led by Top 10 stars Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic - which beat Japan, 4-1. Both Jankovic and Ivanovic won their singles rubbers in straight sets.