Pavlyuchenkova ousts Sharapova, takes Russia to Fed Cup win
Paris: Teenage star Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova replaced a struggling Maria Sharapova on Sunday and inspired four-time champions Russia to an historic 3-2 win over France and a place in the Fed Cup semi-finals.
Sharapova, playing her first Fed Cup match in three years, had crumbled to a 6-3, 6-4 defeat to Virginie Razzano on Saturday in her opening singles rubber and did not feature in Moscow on Sunday.
Russia had been 2-0 down overnight after Alize Cornet had seen off Svetlana Kuznetsova 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
But on Sunday, 19-year-old, world number 14 Pavlyuchenkova defeated Cornet 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 before Kuznetsova levelled the World Group I clash by seeing off Razzano 6-4, 6-4.
No team had ever overturned a 2-0 deficit in the history of the event, but Pavlyuchenkova ignored the record books to partner Kuznetsova to a 7-6, (7/4), 6-0 win over Cornet and Julie Coin in the decisive doubles.
Russia, the 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008 winners, will now face two-time defending champions Italy at home in the semi-finals in April.
"I found out on Saturday that I was playing. At the draw, we decided to see how it went on the first day and then we`d decide," said Pavlyuchenkova.
Italy completed a 4-1 rout of Australia in Hobart with world number Flavia Pennetta extending her winning streak in the competition to 10 matches with a 6-3, 6-2 triumph over Jarmila Groth.
That followed world number four, and French Open champion, Francesca Schiavone`s 7-6 (7/1), 3-6, 7-5 win over fifth-ranked Samantha Stosur.
Roberta Vinci and Sara Errani saved two match points to fight back and beat the Australian combination of Rennae Stubbs and Anastasia Rodionova, 2-6, 7-6 (7/1), 6-4 in the dead doubles rubber.
"We are really happy about this match (result). It was really tough for everyone here," Pennetta said.
Australian Open champion Kim Clijsters secured Belgium`s ticket for the semi-finals thanks to a 6-7 (10/12), 6-2, 6-1 victory over Bethanie Mattek-Sands in Antwerp as the home side took an unassailable 3-0 lead over the United States.
Yanina Wickmayer breezed past Melanie Oudin 6-2, 6-0 to make it 4-0.
"I was expecting (a tough match) when I came out at the start," said Clijsters, who was part of the Belgian side which won the Fed Cup a decade ago.
"I played her a few months ago, and she played a really tough match, you know a very high level and she did that in the first set today as well."
Belgium will tackle the Czech Republic, who saw off neighbours Slovakia 3-2 in Bratislava, for a place in the final.
The Czechs reached their third successive semi-final after Petra Kvitova, the world number 18, swept aside Daniela Hantuchova 6-4, 6-2 in the first of Sunday`s reverse singles to grab the key third point.