Fed Cup: France leads Russia 2-0
France shocked heavily favored Russia, jumping to a 2-0 lead after the opening singles in their Fed Cup World Group tie on Saturday.
Alize Cornet rallied to beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the opening match, and Virginie Razzano then defeated three-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-4 to secure France a commanding lead ahead of Sunday's reverse singles and a doubles match.
A set and 4-1 down, Sharapova won three consecutive games to level the second set. But Razzano broke for a 5-4 lead and served the match out at love.
''Unfortunately we've lost two matches today,'' said Sharapova. ''I tried to fight for every ball today but it didn't work. We both (with Kuznetsova) had chances in our matches and it seemed we'd found our games but then it all vanished.''
It was Sharapova's first appearance for Russia in a home tie. She won both singles in her Fed Cup debut against Israel in 2008.
''Emotions were absolutely different,'' Sharapova said.
Sharapova beat Razzano in the second round of the Australian Open and Razzano heeded the lessons.
''I thought much of how to play Sharapova today,'' Razzano said. ''I think, that the key for my victory was that I put pressure on her on her serve. And she felt that pressure throughout the whole match. A low percentage of her first serve speaks to it.''
Sharapova made eight double faults and put in only 30 of 53 first serves.
The 67th-ranked Cornet was a set and 2-0 down when she leveled at 2-2 in the second set and broke Kuznetsova in the eighth game to stay in the match. After trading breaks three times in the third set, Cornet broke decisively in the ninth game for a 5-4 lead and served the match out with a forehand cross-court winner.
''I didn't feel that I would win,'' Cornet said. ''I just tried to fight for every point. And just at the match point, when I finally made the winner and won the match, I realized what I'd done - and that was a great moment.''
It was her first win in seven Fed Cup singles.
Serving at 40-30 in the fourth game of the third set, Cornet stumbled and appeared to have twisted her right ankle. She took a medical time out and had her ankle bandaged.
''I really twisted my ankle and it was very painful at the moment,'' said Cornet. ''But with the tension and the motivation that I was feeling on the court, I just tried to forget about the pain.''
The injury hampered her movement, but Cornet continued to dominate with powerful strokes that kept Kuznetsova at the baseline.
Yet Kuznetsova said the injury had not slowed Cornet.
''It's always hard to play someone who is injured,'' Kuznetsova said. ''But in the end, I understood that nothing mattered - she moved the same way as before.''
The 23rd-ranked Russian had 62 unforced errors and converted only five of 16 breakpoints.
''I have no excuses,'' said Kuznetsova. ''I've lost a match that I should have won, in any case. But on the other hand, I did all I could on the court but it didn't work today. I opened strongly but then started to hurry and do strange things, and that's the result of it.''
France captain Nicolas Escude said neither of the victories came as a surprise for him.
''I said it several times,'' Escude said. ''Yes, on paper we are weaker, but it doesn't mean that we should step on the court in such mood. We've played two perfect matches and those two winners - they are from France.''
But Escude was far from celebrating the victory.
''One needs three points to score a Fed Cup victory,'' he said.
Sharapova said Russia had not lost the tie yet.
''There will be a new day tomorrow and new struggle,'' Sharapova said. ''We have the whole day ahead and we'll do our best.''
In Sunday's first reverse singles Sharapova was drawn to play Cornet. In the second match, Kuznetsova was to face Razzano, but reverse singles and double nominations are subject to change.
The winner of the match will play either Australia or Italy in the semifinals on April 16-17.