Two stunning results this weekend transformed a bland-looking Fed Cup weekend into a shocker as the two-time defending champion Russians were upset by Italy, and the U.S. fought off a match point in the deciding doubles to advance to the final.
In the Czech Republic, Czechs Iveta Benesova and Kveta Peschke led the American squad of Liezel Huber and Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-2, 5-3, when the Czechs did the throat-clutch movement after failing to serve out the match. Peschke especially dominated the match with her return of serve and volleying through a set and a half, but tightened up to the point where she could barely get a return of serve back in play after failing to close out the match.
The Czechs took advantage of the inexperience of Mattek-Sands, whose fear of the net on many occasions had her losing points from the baseline while her partner and the Czechs were at the net. But in the end the Americans were able to put balls in play and watch the Czechs self destruct, with the U.S. winning the deciding doubles 2-6, 7-6(2), 6-1 to advance to the Fed Cup final for the first time since 2003.
Earlier in the day Czech Lucie Safarova put the Czechs up 2-1 with an easy 6-3, 6-1 defeat of Mattek-Sands, but then the 19-year-old rookie American Alexa Glatch again amazed in her second career Fed Cup singles match of the weekend, steamrolling Petra Kvitova 6-2, 6-1 to even the tie at 2-2 and force the doubles.
The Americans will travel to Italy for the final in November and will face a struggle on the red clay. Whether the high-powered duo of Serena or Venus Williams will avail themselves for the final remains to be seen.
The Italians jumped out to a 2-0 lead over the Russians on Saturday when Flavia Pennetta rolled over Anna Chakvetadze, who was an unprepared substitute when Vera Zvonareva pulled out of the tie at the last minute with injury, 6-4, 6-0. The Russians then absorbed a huge shock when Svetlana Kuznetsova, leading 6-1, mentally folded against the tenacious veteran Francesca Schiavone, losing 1-6, 6-2, 6-3.
Kuznetsova redeemed herself in the first match on Sunday, putting Russia on the board with a decisive 6-0, 6-3 dismantling of Pennetta. But with the tie in the offing, Russian team captain Shamil Tarpischev blundered by inserting Fed Cup debutante Anastasia Pavlyuchenko, with the 17-year-old falling to Schiavone 7-6(7), 4-6, 6-2.
Throwing the rookie Pavlyuchenko into the fire in enemy territory against a vastly more experienced opponent will be the decision the captain Tarpischev will have to defend. Tarpischev had Nadia Petrova on the bench, who had beaten Schiavone in their last two meetings (one on clay), and Chakvetadze who had beaten Schiavone in their last four meetings.
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