After an exciting weekend of tennis, Russia and Italy progressed to the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group final.
Starting the day at 0-2 down, Russia had it all to do, needing to win all three rubbers on Sunday to advance to the final. Maria Kirilenko got them off to a perfect start when she defeated Dominika Cibulkova 75 61.
Focus then moved to Ekaterina Makarova, brought in to replace Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who was facing Daniela Hantuchova. The latter had defeated Maria Kirilenko on the opening day but the Russian got off to a good start, taking the opening set 63. The Slovakian replied by taking the second set 64 but it was Makarova who finished strongest, earning a 63 46 64 victory and forcing the tie to a deciding doubles rubber.
Incredibly, both Makarova and Hantuchova were chosen to play in the doubles rubber, which also featured Cibulkova and Elena Vesnina. The Slovak pair took the opening set 64 but the Russians fought back, winning the second set 63 before going on to claim the rubber and the tie 46 63 61. This was the first time a nation had ever recovered from a 0-2 deficit after the opening day in a World Group semifinal.
In the other semifinal, there was only one rubber played on Sunday due to several rain delays. That rubber saw Sara Errani take on Petra Kvitova, with Errani knowing that, if she could win, Italy would be through to the final. She started quickly in the Palermo drizzle, winning the first 5 games of the rubber before holding off a Kvitova comeback to take the opening set 62.
However, Kvitova, who had started slowly, suddenly surged into gear, taking the second set 62 and the third 60 for a 26 62 60 victory. This meant that the tie was far from over, with a singles rubber and a doubles rubber still left to play. Unfortunately, more rain and bad light meant that the day’s play would resume on Monday morning.
On Monday morning, Roberta Vinci took on Lucie Safarova knowing that, if she could win, Italy would be in the final. She started well, taking the opening set 63 and had the opportunity to serve the tie out at 6-5 in the second set. However, Safarova fought back and claimed the second set 7-2 in a tiebreak.
After an early exchange of breaks, play then settled down until Vinci broke once more to move 5-3 up and would attempt to serve the tie out again. She failed to convert two tie points but earned another which she converted to send Italy through to the final where they will host Russia.
In the World Group play-offs, there was joy for Germany, USA and Spain as they won promotion to the World Group for next year.
Starting the day 2-0 up, Spain quickly wrapped up the victory when Carla Suarez Navarro defeated Ayumi Morita 63 75, giving Spain an unassailable 3-0 lead. Adhering to Fed Cup regulations, the dead singles rubber was not played, in favour of the doubles rubber, which Spain also won. Lourdes Dominguez Lino and Anabel Medina Garrigues ensured Japan did not win a set, let alone a rubber, defeating Shuko Aoyama and Misaki Doi 64 75.
Germany started the day’s play level with Serbia and, when Ana Ivanovic defeated Angelique Kerber 75 75 to give Serbia a 2-1 lead, the German team knew they would have to win both of the remaining rubbers to clinch victory.
Mona Barthel started well, taking the first set 61 off Bojana Jovanovski. The Serb rallied in the second set and won it 63. But Barthel was not to be denied and wrapped up a 61 36 63 victory to force the tie to a deciding doubles rubber.
Germany nominated Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Sabine Lisicki to take on the youthful Serbian pair of Vesna Dolonc and Aleksandra Krunic. The Germans were not to be denied and completed a comfortable 62 64 victory.
USA also started the day level with Sweden but world No. 1 Serena Williams put USA on the front foot with a resounding 62 61 victory over Sofia Arvidsson. It was then left to her sister, Venus Williams, to try to secure victory when she faced Johanna Larsson.
Williams started slowly, being broken in the opening game of the rubber but recovered quickly, taking the opening set 63. She then stormed ahead in the second set and served for the match at 6-5. She eventually converted her eighth match point to seal USA’s victory.
The final World Group play-off tie, between Switzerland and Australia, only started on Monday moprning after both days were rained off. In an attempt to conclude the tie on Monday, the singles rubbers were played simultaneously.
Sam Stosur came out all guns blazing and won the opening set 60 against Stephanie Voegele. At the same time, Romina Oprandi took the first set from Jarmila Gajdosova 62. Oprandi then won the second set 63 just a few minutes before Stosur won her second set 64, meaning Switzerland held the lead for less than five minutes.
In the second set of rubbers, Ashleigh Barty was nominated for Australia to make her Fed Cup singles debut and she took the opening set 63 against Voegele, while Sam Stosur won her first set 75 against Oprandi. Barty quickly completed a 63 64 victory, giving her just enough time to run across to the other court and watch Stosur serve Australia into next year's World Group.
Each of the World Group II play-offs started the day level and there was success for Poland, France, Argentina and Canada who will all compete in World Group II in 2014.
The Radwanska sisters won both of their singles rubbers on Sunday to seal victory before Katarzyna Piter and Alicja Rosolska won the dead doubles rubber, meaning the tie finished 4-1 to Poland.
In France, the host nation provided its fans with plenty to shout about as they too won all three rubbers. Marion Bartoli put France 2-1 up before Alize Cornet won the decisive third point for France. Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic won the dead doubles rubber to make it 4-1.
There was a shock in Argentina as Paula Ormaechea and Maria Irigoyen each won three-set matches to secure a 3-1 victory over Great Britain.
The only World Group II play-off to go to a deciding doubles rubber was in Kiev as Eugenie Bouchard put Canada 2-1 up before Elina Svitolina levelled the tie at 2-2. The Canadians, Sharon Fichman and Bouchard, won the deciding doubles rubber 64 63 to send Canada through to World Group II.
For full match reports click on the links below:
Italy 2-1 Czech Republic
Russia 3-2 Slovak Republic
Germany 3-2 Serbia
Switzerland v Australia
Spain 4-0 Japan
USA 3-2 Sweden
Belgium 1-4 Poland
France 4-1 Kazakhstan
Argentina 3-1 Great Britain
Ukraine 2-3 Canada