MOSCOW, Russia - Things looked grim for the home team as they fell behind 2-0 on Day 1, but a very spirited fightback on Day 2 showed it really is never over until it's over - Russia battled back to beat Slovakia in the Fed Cup semifinals, punctuated by a comeback win in the deciding doubles rubber.
With Dominika Cibulkova and Daniela Hantuchova winning the first two singles matches of the tie on Saturday, Russia was facing an uphill battle if they wanted to reach another Fed Cup final. But bit by bit they started building that comeback, beginning with Maria Kirilenko scoring a 75 61 victory over Cibulkova, winning 12 of 15 games from 3-1 down in the first set to prevail in straight sets.
"She started very well - actually I did as well, but I just needed to keep going and mixing my game up, and I turned it around," Kirilenko said. "I'm really happy about my game today. Unlike yesterday I was playing my own game today, and that's how I feel comfortable on the court, so I'm happy."
What did she mean by playing her own game? "Today I just decided not to slide," Kirilenko explained. "I just played like on hardcourts, to come to the ball without any sliding, and it really helped."
And Kirilenko's belief that Russia could still come back and win the tie was still strong. "You can never give up, no matter what the score is," she said. "Our team is really strong. I think we can do it."
Ekaterina Makarova's belief must have been strong, too - in the second match of the day she battled two and a half hours to edge Hantuchova, 63 46 64. The Russian had to weather a late-match slump - after having a point for a 63 53 lead, she lost seven of the next nine games to lose the second set and fall behind 4-2 in the third - but she found her range again, winning four straight games to finish it.
"I won the first set and the second set was going well," Makarova said afterwards. "I almost broke at 4-3 but I missed a down-the-line by just a little bit, and I didn't forget that ball - I was thinking about it too much. I lost the second set and started losing the third set. So things stopped going so well.
"But then I fell down on the court and just stopped thinking about the score of the match after that. I think falling down really helped me! The way I needed to play came back in my head after that.
"The crowd helped me so much. I really enjoyed this match today - it was a great fight."
The fight wasn't over. Cibulkova and Hantuchova came out strong in the deciding doubles match, winning the first set, 6-4, and holding for a 1-0 lead in the second set - they won the first point in the next game, too. But Makarova and Elena Vesnina came alive from there, winning 12 of the next 15 games for a runaway 46 63 61 victory, their 21st victory in their last 23 matches together.
Russia will be going for its fifth Fed Cup title, having won it in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008.
The other Fed Cup semifinal result won't come in until Monday, however. Italy was leading the Czech Republic after Day 1, 2-0, and Petra Kvitova beat Sara Errani in the first match of Day 2 to close the gap to 2-1, but the rains in Palermo, Italy were just too much, stopping all play for the day.
Errani seemed headed for her first win in five meetings with Kvitova as she built a 62 21 lead, but Kvitova's huge power game caught fire from there - she won 11 games in a row to take it, 26 62 60.
"In the first set I felt quite slow and wasn't playing too well, but I tried to compete and keep my mistakes down and I managed to come back," Kvitova said. "I knew I couldn't play worse than I did in the first set. Keeping my serve was very important, too. I'm really happy I could come back today."