PRAGUE (AFP) – Unlikely heroine Liudmila Samsonova won both of her rubbers to lead Russia past the United States in Prague to the final of the Billie Jean King Cup on Friday (Nov. 5).
The lowest-ranked Russian player in the tournament, 40th-ranked Samsonova defeated Sloane Stephens 1-6, 6-4, 6-3, then teamed up with Veronika Kudermetova to sink Shelby Rogers and Coco Vandeweghe 6-3, 6 -3 in doubles.
Danielle Collins won the lone point for the United States when she defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-7 (9/11), 7-6 (7/2), 6-2.
In the final of the updated Fed Cup on Saturday, Russia will face Australia or Switzerland, who will play their semi-finals later on Friday.
“It feels so special. We are very happy. We made it!” said Samsonova after the doubles match.
In the opening rubber, Stephens charged through the first set without much of a fight, but Samsonova recovered early in the second set, looking much more alive and earning a much anticipated breakpoint.
She sealed it by winning the final game, taking the set and forcing Stephens to step up her own performance.
But it wasn’t enough for the 2017 US Open champion, as the resilient Samsonova held on to her high standard, earning three breaks to one for Stephens in the final set.
“I was really happy with this opportunity and I’m so happy with the way it ended,” said Samsonova, who has only played doubles in the tournament so far.
“Sloane started very well today and I had to find the key to play against her.”
Pavlyuchenkova went on to lead 4-1 in the first set, but Collins, who had lost just six games in her previous two appearances at the tournament, was quick to rediscover her attacking flair.
The set ended in a tight tiebreak in which Pavlyuchenkova was just a little more patient in long rallies.
Collins broke through early in the second set, but the Russian fought back and the drama continued until another tiebreak, this time won by the more aggressive American.
Two breaks in the third set were all Collins needed against the increasingly tired and frustrated Russian.
“I got off to a slow start in the first set, but then I found my way back and gave myself some chances,” Collins said.
“I had to find a way to get my rhythm back, I had to find a way to put some more balls in the field, to reduce casual mistakes, and it took a lot of mental focus.”
In the double rubber, a bouncing ball from Rogers’ smash hit Kudermetova in the very first fifteen, but that didn’t stop the Russians from winning the set on two breaks.
The Russians lost four breakpoints when they led 4-2 and then again 5-2 to end the thriller.
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