Russia became the first semifinalists of the 2021 Billie Jean King Cup Finals, winning a decisive doubles rubber to knock out France 2-1 and thus top Group A.
From the semifinals on, the competition will enter its knockout stages over the last two rounds. In the semis, Russia will face the United States, which defeated Spain 2-1 in the evening session to finish at the top of Group C.
With a semifinal spot at stake, defending champions France bounced back from being upset by Canada on Day 1 to start brightly. Fielding rising 20-year-old Clara Burel, who reached her first WTA Final in Lausanne this July, in the first singles rubber paid off. Burel came from a set down to defeat Ekaterina Alexandrova 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in 1 hour and 57 minutes.
Alexandrova had been fresh off a run to her first WTA 500 final in Moscow last week, though she had lost it in a heartbreaker from 6-4, 4-0 up to Anett Kontaveit. Once again, the Russian could not hold on to a lead. Burel needed five set points to close out the second set, but rolled into a quick 4-0 lead in the decider and closed it out for her first career Top 50 win.
Energised by Burel's success, France's No.1 Alizé Cornet was also intent on overturning the odds to seal victory for her country. She had defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova just once in eight previous meetings, but raced through eight of the last 10 points in the first set to take the lead.
But Pavlyuchenkova recovered to take control of the match, improving as it went on as she scored a 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 win in 2 hours and 23 minutes.
It would all come down to the last doubles rubber, where Russia once again proved its strength in depth. While Burel and Cornet had to pull double duty and team up for their second match of the day, Russia fielded Veronika Kudermetova and Liudmila Samsonova. The fresher, more rested pair dominated proceedings throughout a 47-minute 6-2, 6-1 rout.
The United States will face Russia on Friday. The Americans, who have won the most Billie Jean King Cup titles in history with 18, notched two straight-set wins in the singles matches to build an insurmountable 2-0 lead over the five-time champions Spain.
Former World No.3 Sloane Stephens started the evening off strongly for the U.S., collecting a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Nuria Parrizas Diaz in 1 hour and 28 minutes.
The match was a returner’s paradise with 12 of the 20 games going against serve, and it was 2017 US Open champion Stephens who ultimately triumphed by breaking Parrizas Diaz in the final game of each set.
Danielle Collins followed up with a dominant display to clinch the tie for the United States. Collins dismissed Sara Sorribes Tormo, 6-1, 6-0, in just 59 minutes to seal matters for the Americans.
Only seven spots in the rankings separate World No.30 Collins from 37th-ranked Sorribes Tormo, but in their first meeting, Collins was fully in control. Collins won a staggering 83 percent of her service points and never faced a single break point in the clash.
The commanding victory continues a solid season for Collins, who won her first two WTA singles titles back-to-back this summer, in Palermo and San Jose.
Spain got on the scoreboard at the end of the day by winning the doubles match. Aliona Bolsova and Rebeka Masarova defeated Americans Caroline Dolehide and CoCo Vandeweghe 6-3, 6-4.
Spain's elimination in the group stages closes the career of former World No.6 Carla Suárez Navarro, who completed her farewell season this week in Prague.
The U.S. vs. Russia semifinal will be a rematch of the 1999 Billie Jean King Cup final, which the Americans won 4-1.