Russia face USA in BJK Cup semis after ousting France

·3-min read
Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova celebrates her crucial win (AFP/Michal Cizek)

France's reign as women's tennis world champions ended on Wednesday at the hands of Russia, who will play the Billie Jean King Cup semi-final against the United States.

Russia edged France 2-1 and the United States beat Spain 2-1 to also clinch a spot in the semi-finals of the rebranded version of the Fed Cup.

Russia had to come back from a game down as Clara Burel stunned Ekaterina Alexandrova 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the day's first rubber.

But Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beat Alize Cornet 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 in the second match to secure the decisive point Russia needed to win Group A and send 2019 Fed Cup champions France home.

Russia beat Canada 3-0 on Tuesday, while France had lost to the same opponent 2-1 on Monday, meaning Russia needed a single point to advance.

But Russians beat the holders in the end as Veronika Kudermetova and Liudmila Samsonova eased past Burel and Cornet 6-2, 6-1 in the final doubles rubber.

Pavlyuchenkova and Cornet fought hard for every ball, with a more patient and precise Pavlyuchenkova sending Cornet scampering after her shots.

Pavlyuchenkova slammed a volley into the net as Cornet broke her serve to win the first set, but she fought back to level before breaking Cornet's serve in the crucial marathon first game of set three and then cruising to a win.

"I'm so happy and so proud of myself because I think it was an incredible match," said Pavlyuchenkova after a little celebratory dance on the court.

"It was very good tennis but more importantly I think it was an amazing fighting spirit from both of us, we were like two tigers," she added.

- 'As good as it could get' -

France had started the day strongly as 77th-ranked Burel overcame world number 32 Alexandrova in a nervous rubber.

Alexandrova looked more convincing early on but Burel gradually started to control the game, while Alexandrova kept piling up errors, ending her own misery with two double faults.

"It is very special, it was my first single match for my country and I'm very happy that I was able to win," said Burel.

In the evening Group C tie, Sloane Stephens first saw off Spain's Nuria Parrizas Diaz 6-4, 6-4 and Danielle Collins then swept Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-1, 6-0 in just 59 minutes, under the supervision of Billie Jean King herself.

This was enough for the US team to advance after it had lost 2-1 to Slovakia on Tuesday while the Slovaks had earlier lost 2-1 to Spain.

If Stephens needed three breaks to win the first set and four to take the second, there was never any doubt that the aggressive Collins would take the other rubber by storm.

"It was probably as good as it could get for me today, I went out there and had my tactics and executed it perfectly," said Collins.

"You don't have many of these days throughout the year so I think when you have them you're happy about it. I was really on a roll."

Spain earned a consolation point as Aliona Bolsova and Rebeka Masarova beat Caroline Dolehide and Coco Vandeweghe 6-3, 6-4 in the doubles rubber.

In the remaining group stage games, Australia face Belarus and the Czech Republic take on Switzerland on Thursday.

The semi-finals featuring the four group winners are scheduled for Friday with the final on Saturday.

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