Russia grabs 2-0 lead over Italy in Fed Cup final

Sep 15, 2007 - 5:01 PM MOSCOW (Ticker) -- So far, it appears Maria Sharapova was not needed for the Russians to return to the top.

Behind the singles duo of Anna Chakvetadze and Svetlana Kuznetsova, the Russians grabbed a 2-0 advantage over Italy in the 45th Fed Cup final on Saturday.

Russia now needs just one more point in the best-of-five tie to capture its third title in the past four years.

The defending champion, Italy will need to win both of Sunday's reverse singles and the decisive doubles match to become the third nation in the past nine years to win consecutive titles.

It would be a rare feat if the Italians rally, as only three nations have come back from a 0-2 deficit since the best-of-five format was adopted in 1995.

With world No. 4 Sharapova with the team only as a hitting partner due to a nagging shoulder injury, Chakvetadze and Kuznetsova continued their strong showing from the hard courts.

Climbing up to a career-high ranking of fifth after winning two of her four titles this season leading up to a semifinal showing at the U.S. Open, Chakvetadze edged Francesca Schiavone in the first singles match, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

One of the key players in Italy winning its first Fed Cup title last year, Schiavone held a 3-1 lead in the third set when a terrible error enabled the 20-year-old Russian to rally.

With a shot by Chakvetadze clipping the net before it flipped up into the air, Schiavone failed to capitalize on the easy shot, missing it much to the surprise of the crowd at the indoor Luzhniki Small Sports Arena.

The error appeared to energize Chakvetadze, who captured six of the final seven games en route to beating the Italian for the third straight time in four career meetings.

Prior to that mistake, Schiavone had appeared to taking control of the match, reeling off five straight games to level the match at one set apiece and take 3-0 lead in the third before Chakvetadze held on serve.

"When I was 0-3 down in the third set I thought oh my god, we could be 1-0 down to Italy and this is going to be tough for Sveta," said Chakvetadze, who turned to the serene captain Shamil Tarpischev for restoration.

"There was no point talking about tactics at this stage, so he was trying to calm me down and help me to be more positive and relaxed."

With Russia holding the early edge, Kuznetsova fed off the momentum.

Coming off a runner-up showing at Flushing Meadows that earned her the world No. 2 ranking, Kuznetsova rolled to a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Mara Santangelo.

Kuznetsova came up big with her serve, finishing with eight aces and winning 90 percent the points on her first serve.

"That was not easy today and is a big plus for me," Kuznetsova said. "I played well on certain points and I'm in good shape at the moment. I was really ready for this and I always give my opponents as less chance as possible."

It was the 22-year-old Russian's fourth win in as many career meetings with Santangelo.

On Sunday, Kuznetsova is expected to face Schiavone in the first reverse singles while Chakvetadze will meet Santangelo.

This is the fourth time that Russia has faced Italy in the Fed Cup, winning each of the previous three.

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