PRAGUE, Nov 5 (Reuters) – Liudmila Samsonova won her singles rubber before returning with Veronika Kudermetova in the deciding doubles to help Russia beat the United States in a thrilling tie on Friday and reach the Billie Jean King Cup final for the first time since 2015.
With American great Billie Jean King watching from the stands, Samsonova and Kudermetova defeated the American pair of Shelby Rogers and CoCo Vandeweghe 6-3 6-3 before breaking into joyous celebrations with their team mates on court.
Danielle Collins earlier levelled the tie for 18-times winners United States with a 6-7(9) 7-6(2) 6-2 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova after Samsonova had given the Russians the lead with a 1-6 6-4 6-3 victory over Sloane Stephens.
Russia, bidding to win what was formerly-known as the Fed Cup for the fifth time, are competing in Prague as the Russian Tennis Federation team due to sanctions that prevent them using their country’s flag and anthem were imposed due to doping scandals.
The two teams had contrasting paths to the semi-finals with the Russians cruising through with wins in both their group ties while United States had to dig deep against Spain after an upset defeat to Slovakia.
World number 40 Samsonova is the lowest ranked in the RTF team in Prague but she got the nod for the singles against Stephens given her 2-0 head-to-head record against the 2017 U.S. Open champion.
Former world number three Stephens, who has slipped down the rankings to 63rd currently, got off to a brisk start at the O2 Arena’s Centre Court, breaking the 22-year-old Russian three times to take the opening set.
Making her Billie Jean King Cup singles debut, Samsonova, however, found her range with powerful groundstrokes to rally to victory.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling to win my first match in the Billie Jean King Cup,” Samsonova said. “I was very positive before the match. I knew it’s gonna be a very, very tough match against Sloane.”
Pavlyuchenkova went a double break up against the 30th-ranked Collins in a fierce baseline battle but could only take the opening set in a closely-contested tiebreaker after a spectacular fightback from the American.
But Collins continued to surge after her slow start and peppered the court with 50 winners to take down the Russian world number 12 and send the tie into a deciding doubles rubber.
In the day’s second semi-final, Switzerland will take on 2019 runners-up Australia with the final scheduled for Saturday.
Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Toby Davis
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