The Russian Tennis Federation is back in the winner’s circle at the Billie Jean King Cup, defeating Switzerland in the championship tie to claim the premier team competition in women’s tennis for the fifth time.
The Russians dominated the event in the 2000s, winning the title four times during that decade, but they had not won a title since 2008.
They put an end to that 13-year drought after Daria Kasatkina and Liudmila Samsonova picked up singles wins Saturday night to build an insurmountable 2-0 lead over the Swiss squad and capture the cup at the O2 Arena in Prague.
The Russians denied Switzerland their maiden Billie Jean King Cup championship. The Swiss finish as runners-up for the second time, along with their finalist showing in 1998 when they fell to the five-time champions Spain.
Kasatkina got the Russians off on the right foot with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Jil Teichmann of Switzerland in the opening match. In the first meeting between the pair, the World No.28 Kasatkina ousted No.39 Teichmann in 1 hour and 19 minutes.
“I’m happy that I bring this very important point to my team,” Kasatkina said on court, after her win. “Today’s not finished, and now I have to be their supporter.”
The former Top 10 player Kasatkina swept through the first set as Teichmann was undone by 16 unforced errors, compared to just four from the Russian.
Things got closer in the second set with both players trying to control points with their forehands, and a flurry of three straight breaks left Kasatkina ahead 5-4. Serving for the match, Kasatkina used her speed and technical acuity to draw errors from Teichmann and prevail in the first clash of the day.
The cup was clinched when No.40 Samsonova ousted 17th-ranked Belinda Bencic in a three-set comeback, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, after 2 hours and 22 minutes of gripping tennis.
Neither player had lost a match this week up to this point, with Bencic going 4-0 (3-0 in singles) and Samsonova winning her singles and doubles matches Friday in the semifinals against the United States.
Russian captain Igor Andreev substituted Samsonova, who had won her two previous matches against Bencic, for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the second match of the day.
Samsonova defeated Bencic to win her first WTA singles title in Berlin this summer, and she grabbed another win over the former World No.4 in Luxembourg this autumn.
However, this year's Olympic gold medalist Bencic notched the first set as she continued to play her best tennis while representing her country. She broke Samsonova for a 5-3 lead, then followed with a love hold, culminating with an ace.
But just as in her win over former US Open champion Sloane Stephens on Friday, Samsonova shook off a tough first set, and her powerful game came into its own in the second set. Samsonova slammed a forehand crosscourt winner on the sideline to earn the only break of that set at 3-2.
In the opening game of the final set, the big returning by Samsonova gave her a service break, which would prove to be decisive in the long run. Bencic had break points in each of Samsonova's next two service games, but the Russian held firm, and she confidently served out the match at 5-4.
"I have too many emotions now," Samsonova said on court, directly after beating Bencic for the third time this season and clinching the Billie Jean King Cup for her country. "It's unbelievable. I'm unbelievably happy."