Defending champions France are out of the Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas after the Russian Tennis Federation (RTF) fought back from 1-0 down to advance to the semi-finals, where they will meet USA, who won both singles matches against Spain on Wednesday.
I think, in this format, every game, every set counts. For me, I was just on a roll. I think it's quite hard putting to words when you have a performance like that. We want to win this and now it is a little bit closer. Danielle Collins
The 2019 champions were upset by underdogs Canada, 2-1, on Monday and needed to beat RTF 3-0 to keep their hopes alive, and Clara Burel, a surprise replacement for Daria Kasatkina, got them off to a fighting start when the 20-year old won the opening rubber by upsetting Ekaterina Alexandrova, ranked 77 in the world, 3-6 6-4 6-3, her first victory over a top-50 player in her singles debut in the competition.
The Russian hit 34 winners but also produced 44 unforced errors before double-faulting on Burel’s 4th match point.
“It’s very special,” Burel said. “It was the first match for my country and I was very happy to be able to win today.”
The match against Alexandrova produced a combined 17 breaks of serve but it was Burel who grabbed the momentum halfway through with a 6-game winning streak from the end of the second set through the start of the third to establish a 4-0 lead.
Alexandrova halved the deficit but a costly double-fault gifted Burel the victory on her 6th match point, as France moved up 1-0 in the tie to keep their chances alive in Group A.
After sweeping Canada aside, 3-0, RFT needed just one match win from the best-of-three tie to advance from Group A, and its top player, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, ranked 12, duly delivered it with a 5-7 6-4 6-2 win over of Alizé Cornet.
There were high-fives all around and dancing as Pavlyuchenkova let her emotions flow after she finally outlasted the stubborn Cornet.
“I’m so, so happy and so proud of myself because, I think, it was an incredible match, not only tennis, I think it was very good tennis, but more importantly, I think it was an amazing fighting spirit from both of us,” Pavlyuchenkova said.
“We were like two tigers – nobody wanted to give each other anything and I think that’s what matters, that is the point of the sport we are playing.”
After dropping the first set, the Russian broke Cornet in the opening games of the following two sets to improve her record against her 59th-ranked opponent to 7-1, saving 6 of 10 break points she faced and firing 34 winners against her French opponent.
“Win or lose, I would be disappointed if I lost, but I would still be proud and happy,” Pavlyuchenkova added. “There’s a bonus I won, I believe we go to semis, that’s what the little dance was about.
“Also I kept so many emotions inside, so I just wanted to let it go.”
Safely in the semi-finals, it left the doubles rubber to decide the fate of the tie and RTF claimed the win when Veronika Kudermetova & Liudmila Samsonova dispatched Cornet & Burel, 6-2 6-1.
French captain Julien Benneteau, who had been bidding to extend his unbeaten run at the tournament, previously called the Fed Cup, paid tribute to his team.
“We are disappointed tonight because we are out of the competition but today I’m proud about my two players on my side,” he said. “They both played two great matches.
“Clara, for her first singles match in the Billie Jean King Cup, she beat a very, very good player, she found the solutions to come back after one set down and to be able to win like this is very, very good.
“And Alizé against Pavlyuchenkova, it was one of the best matches I’ve seen this year. The level of the match was incredible.
“Anastasia was playing and serving so well at certain moments but otherwise Alizé fought until the end. I knew she would have done that, and that’s why I put her on the court.
“I was impressed by the way she played today, the heart she gave on the court, and during this week she was an example for the rest of the team.”
Pavlyuchenkova, the Roland Garros finalist and Olympic mixed doubles gold medallist is hoping the RTF can lift its 5th Billie Jean King Cup.
The 30-year-old is currently on a 5-match winning streak in the competition and she’s bidding to win the trophy for the first time after losing both finals she previously contested.
“I think in the first set I was thinking too much on why I missed this ball, where I have to play, what was wrong,” she explained after her match. “Then second and the third I just said to myself, ‘just play every point, doesn’t matter how, I want to win’.
“Third set I said to myself, ‘I’m going to die on the court but I will not lose this match’, so I think that was the key.”
In Group C, the United States was in a must-win situation but took both singles rubbers against their tie with Spain to reach the semi-finals on Wednesday, when Sloane Stephens and Danielle Collins earned straight-set wins to render the final doubles redundant.
USA, the most successful team in the competition with 18 titles, will face RFT in the last 4 on Friday for a place in Saturday’s final.
Stephens beat Nuria Parrizas-Diaz, 6-4 6-4, earning her 7th break of the match in the final game and converting her first match point with a backhand winner.
“I came out really confident, I knew that I’m ready,” said Stephens, the 2107 US Open champion.
Collins secured the second point by blasting past Sara Sorribes Tormo, 6-1 6-0, in just under an hour to eliminate Spain.
“I think, in this format, every game, every set counts,” Collins said. “For me, I was just on a roll.
“I think it’s quite hard putting to words when you have a performance like that.
‘We want to win this and now it is a little bit closer.”
Whether fuelled by their agonising defeat to Slovakia on Monday, inspired by the watching Billie Jean King or just a sheer desire for silverware, USA are edging closer to the podium once more.
King was present for both singles matches and both Stephens and Collins acknowledged the impact this had on their games.
“Having the person the event is named after watching you is incredible,” said Stephens. “Just for our country, having Billie here is amazing, and she has inspired us all.
“I am happy that she is here, and I hope we can keep going so she can see some more of our matches.”
Collins echoed those sentiments, saying: “It is super inspiring. It is a really great thing, her in the crowd today supporting us. I know it means the world to everyone on the team.”
Spain restored some pride in the dead doubles rubber as Aliona Bolsova & Rebaka Masarova defeated CoCo Vandeweghe & rookie Caroline Dolehide, 6-3 6-4.
At the conclusion of the tie, there was an emotional farewell to Carla Suarez Navarro, who at the end of these Finals is bringing down the curtain on a spectacular career, which has spanned nearly two decade and contained untold memories.
The Spaniard was emotional as a video was played on the big screen at Prague’s O2 Arena, featuring players offering their fond farewells and congratulating the 33-year-old on an outstanding career.
Day 3 Results
Group A – Russian Tennis Federation d. France 2-1
- Clara Burel (FRA) d. Ekaterina Alexandrova (RTF) 3-6 6-4 6-3
- Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RTF) d. Alize Cornet (FRA) 5-7 6-4 6-2
- Veronika Kudermetova/Liudmila Samsonova (RTF) d. Clara Burel/Alize Cornet (FRA) 6-2 6-1
Group C – USA defeated Spain 2-1
- Sloane Stephens (USA) d. Nuria Parrizas-Diaz (ESP) 6-4 6-4
- Danielle Collins (USA) d. Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) 6-1 6-0
- Aliona Bolsova/Rebeka Masarova (ESP) d. Caroline Dolehide/CoCo Vandeweghe (USA) 6-3 6-4
RTF and USA both finish in first place in their groups and will meet in the semi-finals on Friday.