PRAGUE (AFP) – Unlikely heroine Liudmila Samsonova won both her rubbers to lead Russia to the Billie Jean King Cup final past the United States in Prague on Friday (Nov 5).
The lowest-placed Russian player at the tournament, the 40th-ranked Samsonova beat Sloane Stephens 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 and then teamed up with Veronika Kudermetova to sink Shelby Rogers and Coco Vandeweghe 6-3, 6-3 in the doubles.
Danielle Collins won the only point for the United States as she edged Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-7 (9/11), 7-6 (7/2), 6-2.
In Saturday’s final of the rebranded Fed Cup, Russia will face either Australia or Switzerland who are playing their semi-final later on Friday.
“It feels so special. We are very happy. We made it!” Samsonova said after the doubles match.
In the opening rubber, Stephens breezed through the first set without having to fight much, but Samsonova recovered early in the second set, looking much livelier and earning a long-awaited break point.
She put a seal on it by winning the last game, taking the set and forcing Stephens to step up her own performance.
But it was not enough for the 2017 US Open champion as the resilient Samsonova kept her high standard, earning three breaks against one for Stephens in the final set.
“I was very happy for this opportunity and I’m so happy about the way it finished,” said Samsonova, who has so far only played doubles at the tournament.
“Sloane started very well today and I had to find the key to play against her.”
Pavlyuchenkova then went 4-1 up in the first set, but Collins, who had only lost six games in her previous two appearances at the tournament, was quick to rediscover her attacking flair.
The set went into a tight tie-break in which Pavlyuchenkova was just a bit more patient in long rallies.
Collins broke early into the second set but the Russian fought back and the drama continued until another tie-break won by the more aggressive American this time.
Two breaks in the third set was all that Collins needed against the increasingly tired and frustrated Russian.
“I got off to a slow start in the first set but then I found my way back, gave myself some chances,” said Collins.
“I had to find a way to get my rhythm back, I had to find a way to put some more balls in the court, to cut down on unforced errors, and it took a lot of mental focus.”
In the doubles rubber, a bouncing ball from Rogers’ smash hit Kudermetova right under the eye in the very first fifteen, but that did not stop the Russians from winning the set on two breaks.
The Russians wiped out four break points as they led 4-2 and then again at 5-2 to finish the thriller.