Welcome to Fed Cup Fables, where wtatennis.com will take a look back at some of the most memorable ties from the past five years of Fed Cup. Kicking off the countdown is a a classic final between defending champion Czech Republic facing down Russia's finest in front of an exuberant home crowd.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Four times a Fed Cup champion in the 1980s, it took the Czech Republic over two decades to win another and restore their dominance over the sport's premier team competition.
With Petra Kvitova leading the charge, they dispatched Russia for the win in 2011, they nabbed three more titles heading into 2015. That year they were as dominant as ever, sweeping all six live rubbers across two ties, dismantling Canada 4-0 in their opening clash and surviving an in-form Caroline Garcia to dispatch the French in the semifinals.
It would take a special team to hand the Czechs - flanked by Kvitova and rising countrywoman Karolina Pliskova - their first defeat in over two years, but the Russians were game for the challenge.
The cross-continental nation had captured four championships in the 2000s, correlating with their maiden and meteoric success on the Grand Slam stage.
Half of those winning runs were led by Anastasia Myskina, the first from Russia to win a major title at the 2004 French Open - leading to an open floodgate that saw compatriots Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova win Wimbledon and the US Open in quick succession.
Now serving as Fed Cup coach, Myskina nominated Sharapova and Kuznetsova for a 4-0 rout of Poland and shook off losing a 2-0 lead in the semifinals to defeat Germany in deciding doubles with help from Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Elena Vesnina. Could Myskina's dream team upset the defending champs?
WHAT HAPPENED: Playing in Prague's O2 Arena, the Czechs enjoyed a wave of crowd support that carried them through the first rubber of the weekend. Kvitova opened the tie against Pavlyuchenkova, whom she was playing for the second time that season. Where the Russian fell in straight sets to eventual Mutua Madrid Open champion on clay, Pavlyuchenkova was in glittering form to start Saturday's encounter, making use of her all-court game to sweep the first set with a deft approach to net.
Kvitova made no mistakes in the subsequent two sets, dialing in her effortlessly powerful ground game to first level, then run away with the rubber to get the Czechs first on the board.
The second match featured Sharapova and Pliskova, both playing the first Fed Cup final of their careers. Sharapova nonetheless had a wealth of big-match experience on which to rely, allowing her to shake off an early break to tie things up with the Czechs at one win apiece.
Sharapova returned on Day 2 of the tie to take on Kvitova for the 11th - and ultimately final - match of their impressive rivalry. Kvitova, who toppled Sharapova to win her first Grand Slam title at the 2011 Wimbledon Championships, had won their last meeting only a month prior at the WTA Finals in Singapore, and appeared poised for a third straight win over the Russian as she broke her at love to win the first set.
Undaunted, the former World No.1 withstood Kvitova's barrage to roar back from within two games of defeat, taking the second set and stepping in for some big returns to earn a comfortable lead in the decider. With a forehand putaway at net, Russia was one win from victory.
Pliskova and Pavlyuchenkova returned for the final singles rubber and it was the newly crowned Ace Queen who forced a deciding doubles rubber with some determined play from the baseline.
It all came down to a battle of future WTA Doubles No.1s as Vesnina (partnering Pavlyuchenkova) took on Barbora Strycova (with Pliskova). Pavlyuchenkova and Vesnina had pulled out the win for Russia in the semifinals, and rallied from an early break deficit to sweep to move within six games of the championship.
Strycova and Pliskova proved more focused in the last two sets, holding onto their break advantages and, as the crowd came to its final crescendo, playing the perfect mix of power and finesse to secure a stunning fourth Fed Cup trophy.
WHAT IT MEANT: The Czechs captured two more titles that decade, making a grand total of six in the face of rising rivals like France and Romania. In the short term, all three of the Czechs leading players from that 2015 tie used that momentum as a springboard into that next season.
Kvitova and Strycova won Olympic medals at the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro (both bronze, in singles and doubles, respectively) while Pliskova hit new heights in singles, defeating both Venus and Serena en route to her first Grand Slam final at that year's US Open.
As Myskina, Sharapova, and Kuznetsova stood in a row on the podium as runners-up, it would have been hard to believe that it would be that way for the last time. Myskina has since stepped down from her role as Fed Cup coach, ceding to countryman Igor Andreev, and Sharapova announced her retirement from the sport this past February.
Alongside regular partner Ekaterina Makarova Vesnina avenged her defeat to Strycova in doubles in Rio, defeating her and Safarova in the semis and winning Gold over Martina Hingis and Timea Bacsinszky in the final.
Of the original 2004 trio, Kuznetsova remains equal parts engaging and enigmatic, rolling into the Western & Southern Open final last summer in what was her best result since she and Vesnina played the 2017 BNP Paribas Open final. Carrying that momentum into the new decade, she backed that up with a run to the Qatar Total Open semis, where she fell to eventual champion Aryna Sabalenka.