Russia rally to stun France
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova replaced Maria Sharapova on Sunday and led Russia to the semifinals of the Fed Cup with a dramatic 3-2 comeback win over France.
It set up a last-four tie with holders Italy, who eased past Australia 4-1 in their World Group first round meeting.
Russia were 2-0 down after Saturday’s singles, which included Sharapova’s straight-sets defeat to Virginie Razzano in her first Fed Cup match in three years.
But Pavlyuchenkova beat Alize Cornet 3-6 6-3 6-2 and double Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova won her singles rubber, 6-4 6-4 over Razzano, to level the tie at 2-2.
Pavlyuchenkova and Kuznetsova then beat Julie Coin and Cornet 7-6 6-0 in the deciding doubles.
World number four Francesca Schiavone repeated her French Open final triumph over Samantha Stosur to guide Italy to victory over Australia.
With the match tied at 1-1 after Saturday’s singles, Schiavone prevailed 7-6 3-6 7-5 before Flavia Pennetta beat Jarmila Groth 6-3 6-2 to give Italy their first Fed Cup victory over Australia in six attempts.
The doubles rubber was academic, although it did allow Italy’s Roberta Vinci to equal a Fed Cup record as she and Sara Errani beat Anastasia Rodionova and Rennae Stubbs. It was Vinci’s 16th consecutive victory in Fed Cup doubles action.
“Yesterday we could have been 2-0 or 0-2, so we are happy to have won 3-1,” Pennetta said after sealing victory. “It was tough for everyone because both teams are so good.”
In the other half of the draw, Belgium won 4-1 against the United States, last year’s runners-up, to ensure a semifinal with the Czech Republic.
Australian Open champion Kim Clijsters followed Saturday’s singles win with another victory on Sunday, against Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 6-7 6-2 6-1.
The Czechs beat Slovakia 3-2 after Petra Kvitova won the first singles match on Sunday to give her nation an unassailable 3-0 lead.
The semifinals will be played on April 16-17.
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