Kuznetsova, Chakvetadze put Russia in command
Svetlana Kuznetsova and Anna Chakvetadze recorded contrasting victories against Italian opponents yesterday to give Russia a commanding 2-0 lead over holders Italy in the Fed Cup final.
World number five Chakvetadze prevailed over Francesca Schiavone 6-4 4-6 6-4 in the opening singles before world number two Kuznetsova crushed Mara Santangelo 6-1 6-2 in the second rubber to put the home team within a point of securing their third Fed Cup title in four years.
Even without world number four Maria Sharapova, who is nursing a shoulder injury, the Russians were tipped as overwhelming favourites to beat last year's surprise winners Italy, who do not have a player in the world top 25.
Chakvetadze, who last week reached her first grand slam semi-final at the US Open, was made to work hard for her victory, however.
In a match filled with unforced errors from both sides, the 20-year-old Russian recovered her poise after going 3-0 down in the third set to pull off the win after two hours 15 minutes.
She secured a decisive break in the seventh game and took the first set.
The combative Schiavone, the heroine of Italy's 3-2 semi-final victory over France in July when she won all three of her matches, fought back in the second to level the score.
The 25th-ranked Italian broke Chakvetadze early in the final set to go 3-0 ahead but the Russian returned the favour with the help of a lucky net cord in the fifth game.
Schiavone felt that could have been the turning point in the match.
"I ran to the net to get that ball but missed it because I was afraid to touch the net with my racket," she told a news conference.
"After I lost that game it was tough for me to keep the momentum. We both were fighting for every ball, it was close, two-three points made the difference in the end."
The Russian agreed. "I was a bit lucky on that shot which hit the top of the net and fell on her side," she said.
"After that Francesca was a bit down on herself and it helped me raise my game."
Chakvetadze finally found her range and broke again in the ninth game before clinching victory on her second match point. "I think it was a very important victory as it gave us the lead and it was much easier for Svetlana to play her match," she said.
Kuznetsova simply overpowered Santangelo on the hard court of Moscow's Luzhniki arena, breaking the 34th-ranked Italian twice in both the first and second sets to end the contest after just 58 minutes.
"I played a good match and it was a comfortable win," said Kuznetsova, who takes on Schiavone in the first reverse singles today.
World Group: Israel vs Russia; US vs Germany; China vs France; Italy vs Spain.
World Group II: Ukraine vs Belgium; Japan vs Croatia; Czech Rep. vs Slovakia; Argentina vs Austria.