BRISBANE, Australia - For the first time in 26 years, Australia will compete in a Fed Cup final thanks to the heroics of Ashleigh Barty and Samantha Stosur.
The past two Grand Slam doubles champions outlasted Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka in three sets, 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 in Sunday's deciding doubles rubber to clinch a 3-2 semifinal win inside Pat Rafter Arena.
“It’s just super-exciting now to be in a Fed Cup final," Stosur told reporters after the tie, per fedcup.com.
"All the girls, we all work so hard throughout the year, and we really stick together as a team, Fed Cup weeks or not Fed Cup weeks, we’ve always got each other’s backs, so to be in the Fed Cup final now I think’s a great reward for both of us, and we’re going to give it our best shot here in November."
Australia last reached the Fed Cup final in 1993, finishing as runners-up to Spain. The Aussies are 0-8 in Fed Cup finals since winning it all in 1974, a run which included six straight appearances in the final from 1975-80.
The Aussie duo led for much of the first set, but despite being up a break twice, found themselves two points away from a one-set deficit as Barty served at deuce in the 10th game.
Nonetheless, they sealed that game to win the last three in the first, and despite losing the last three of the second to be taken to a decider, and sealed the win with two more breaks in the final set.
Earlier in the day on Sunday, Azarenka's first Fed Cup singles win in three years was a big one.
The two-time Grand Slam champion and former World No.1 downed Stosur with the loss of just two games to send the tie the deciding doubles.
"It was either we were going to stay and fight for another match or we were going to go home, so I was really focused," Azarenka said on-court after the match.
"I thought that I played great tennis and I executed well. It's a pleasure playing here, it's a pleasure playing for my country, and I'm looking forward to a next match.
"The prssue is always there, and I think it's good because those are the situations you want to be in. A year ago, when I lost the match [yesterday], I wouldn't be talking to anybody and I would be sad, but yesterday [after losing to Barty], I took a different approach.
"I fell in love with the journey...and what I can do better today, so I was leaving the court with a smile and I came back with a smile."
Azarenka extended a dominant head-to-head over Stosur, which dates back 14 years, to 10-1, in just 59 minutes.
The Aussie never found her groove in the match, serving eight double faults and racking up 28 unforced errors, losing serve a total of six times.
The 6-1, 6-1 win for Azarenka followed up Barty's 6-2, 6-2 win over Aryna Sabalenka in Sunday's first singles rubber, the matchip between a pair of Top 10 players and the two top players for the tie overall by ranking.
"I think it was really important for me to get out of a few tricky service games," Barty told reporters after the match, per fedcup.com.
"But a really clean match, I felt like I stuck to my plans well, and was able to execute under pressure. I think we had a really clear plan today.
"We were able to have a look at a few different things that Sam was able to expose yesterday, and I was able to take advantage of it today. I thought it was really clean - particularly on return games, I was able to build pressure pretty quickly."
Barty ran her Fed Cup winning streak to 13 matches with the win, serving 12 aces and breaking serve four times.
From 2-2 in each set, the World No.8 won the last four games against the World No.10, who hit 30 unforced errors across the two sets.
In November, the Aussies will play for their first Fed Cup in 45 years on home soil.