Sunday, September 16, 2007

Russians Win Fed Cup Title

I just submitted this article to Sportingo for immediate release. Hopefully you can see it there soon, too.

Last year, the Fed Cup was all about Francesca Schiavone. This year, it was Svetlana Kuznetsova.

The second-ranked Russian won both her singles matches in impressive fashion, including a nail-biting, match-point-saving win over Schiavone on the second day of action to give Russia an insurmountable 3-0 in the best-of-five ties Fed Cup Final.

In a battle between the two countries that have won the last three Fed Cup titles, Russia hosted a determined Italian team who had pulled out all the stops in July to beat a more formidable French team 3-2 in the semifinals.

But this time, with Kuznetsova leading the way and Maria Sharapova as a (gasp!) practice partner, the Russians flourished with their experience in front of red, white and blue crowds in Moscow.

Anna Chakvetadze started the weekend out right for the host country, extending Schiavone to three sets and pulling it out. It was a surprising falter for Schiavone, who has been known in the past for her heroics - especially in Fed Cup ties. In the aforementioned tie against France in July, Shiavone fought back from 1-5 down in the third set to not only beat Tatiana Golovin, but clinched the Italians a chance to play for the finals.

It was a different story this weekend in Moscow, however, as Chakvetadze built off her US Open semifinal appearance by appearing the more calm and collected player in the third set, even when she was down.

Kuznetsova looked more determined to forget her US Open experience than to build on it. Her embarrassing final loss to Justine Henin left her with her tail between her legs as she left New York City. But from the onset of her match against Mara Santagelo, Kuznetsova looked in form and in control.

The same couldn't go for Saturday, when Russia led 2-0 following Chakvetadze and Kuznetsova's win. Italy was desperate for a point on the board, and Schiavone had taken the first set 6-4 and had two match points in the second-set tie-breaker to give her nation a chance at a come-from-behind win.

Yet Kuznetsova dug deep, winning the breaker and then coming back from 1-4 down to win the match in a close three sets, 7-5 in the third.

With players like Nadia Petrova, Elena Vesnina and Sharapova on the sidelines, Russia clinched its role as the single most powerful nation in women's tennis today. Though no Russian won a Slam in singles this year, Sharapova reached a final and a semifinal, while Kuznetsova was also a finalist and Chakvetadze a semifinalist. There are now 11 Russian women in the top 100.

And if Sharapova's precense is any indicator of a mended relationship between her and coach Shamil Tarpishchev, the Russians can only expect not only to be back in the title tie next year, but a fourth title in five years.

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