Italy, US Reach Final
Published April 26, 2009 12:00
They dominated the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas over the last half-decade, winning four of the last five titles - in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008. But Russia won't make it five of six, after an inspired Italian team dethroned them in a tight semifinal, 3-2. They'll meet another multiple winner, USA, for the title.
The Russians were in trouble right away against Italy - who won their lone Fed Cup title in 2006 - going down 2-0 on Day 1 after Flavia Pennetta beat Anna Chakvetadze, 64 60, and Francesca Schiavone beat Svetlana Kuznetsova, 16 62 63.
"I was very focused in the beginning; I think it was the key," Pennetta said. "I started breathing a little bit more after winning the first set. I hit my forehand and backhand better from there and things just got better as the match went on."
Kuznetsova gave Russia a good start to Day 2 with a 60 63 win over Pennetta but Schiavone sealed the deal, edging Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 76(7) 46 62, to put Italy ahead, 3-1. Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci made it a 4-1 victory with a win over Pavlyuchenkova and Nadia Petrova in the doubles rubber, 16 63 64.
"In the second set I didn't play so well but in the third I left everything on the court," Schiavone said of her Day 2 win. "It's fantastic. It's amazing for us to get back into the final. I'm very happy I was part of this dream."
The USA was tied after Day 1, as Petra Kvitova beat Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 63 76(2), and Alexa Glatch beat Iveta Benesova, 61 62. After Day 2's singles rubbers the tie was still even, 2-2, after Lucie Safarova beat Mattek-Sands, 63 61, and Glatch earned another crushing win, this time over Kvitova, 62 61.
It all came down to the doubles rubber, with two of the world's best players in the discipline - Liezel Huber and Kveta Peschke - taking opposite sides of the net, as Huber partnered Mattek-Sands and Peschke partnered Benesova. And it couldn't have been closer, as Huber and Mattek-Sands came back from the jaws of defeat to win it, 26 76(2) 61. They were down 62 52 and match point.
"I'm speechless. Bethanie thought I was going to faint there at the end," Huber said. "Kveta is just the best player, we were kind of stunned, we just couldn't get the ball away from her. But in the end we were in control of the match."
"I didn't even realize we were down match point," Mattek-Sands said. "Liezel was telling me where to go and I was just doing it. This is unbelievable!"
The USA has won the Fed Cup title 17 times in the past, but not since 2000, and this is its first final since their last runner-up finish in 2003.
In addition to the four semifinalist teams, who automatically received berths into the 2010 World Group, four teams won World Group Play-offs to feature in the eight-team draw for next year: Serbia beat Spain; Germany beat China; the Ukraine beat Argentina; and France edged Slovakia in the last tie.
"It's very exciting for us. This is something we've wanted for a long time," Jankovic said. "The conditions were quite tough, playing in Spain against the Spanish players. But I just gave my best. It's quite important. You can never compare playing for yourself in a tournament and playing for your country. You have to play with your heart. It was pure excitement when we won."
"We didn't know if we were going to play today because they said it was going to rain," Ivanovic said. "We're all very excited about it. I think we have a team that can win the Fed Cup. We could even win it next year. We've beaten these players before, but obviously Fed Cup is a very different atmosphere."
Belgium, Estonia, Poland and Australia secured berths in World Group II for 2010 with wins in the World Group II Play-offs. Spain, China, Argentina and Slovakia will join them there.