France leads favored Russia in Fed Cup
Russia's Grand Slam champions were stunned by France's relative no-names and French Open champion Francesca Schiavone lost to an Australian making her Fed Cup singles debut in first-round ties on Saturday.
In front of a Moscow crowd anticipating a predicted victory parade, two-time Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova lost to Alize Cornet 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 then three-time major champ Maria Sharapova fell to Virginie Razzano 6-3, 6-4 in her first Fed Cup match at home.
''We both had chances in our matches,'' Sharapova said, ''and it seemed we'd found our games but then it all vanished.''
The shocking results left Russia needing to sweep both reverse singles and the doubles on Sunday to prevent further embarrassment.
Since the Fed Cup moved to a best-of-five format in 1995, Russia has never won from 2-0 down.
Neither has Slovakia, which was trailing the Czech Republic 2-0 in the derby at Bratislava. But the score was no surprise as the Slovaks have never beaten the Czechs.
In Hobart, defending champion Italy had to come back to level with Australia 1-1 after Schiavone blew a set-and-break lead in losing to Jarmila Groth 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3. Groth played for Slovakia eight years ago, and was playing her first tie for her new team.
''I happened to beat someone who is ranked four in the world, which is amazing,'' Groth said.
Flavia Pennetta evened the tie by upsetting world No. 5 Sam Stosur 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 6-4.
In Antwerp, a Belgium side featuring Australian Open champ Kim Clijsters led the United States 2-0.
Kuznetsova, Russia's most successful player in the competition with three Fed Cup titles, led Cornet, winless in Fed Cup singles, by a set and 2-0. Even after Cornet twisted her right ankle early in the third set and couldn't move as well, Kuznetsova failed to take advantage and lost her first home singles in seven years.
''I've lost a match that I should have won,'' Kuznetsova said. ''I opened strongly but then started to hurry and do strange things, and that's the result of it.''
Sharapova beat Razzano in straight sets in the second round of the Australian Open last month but served poorly this time and was always chasing the Frenchwoman, who prevailed 6-3, 6-4.
''On paper we are weaker, but it doesn't mean that we should step on the court in such mood,'' France captain Nicolas Escude said. ''We've played two perfect matches and those two winners – they are from France. (But) one needs three points to score a Fed Cup victory.''
The Czechs gave Slovak fans nothing to cheer about in Sibamac Arena as Australian Open quarterfinalist Petra Kvitova beat Dominika Cibulkova 6-2, 6-3 and Lucie Safarova handled Daniela Hantuchova 7-5, 6-1.
''I hope to get the third point tomorrow,'' said Kvitova, who will open the reverse singles against Hantuchova.
The winner of the tie will face Belgium or the United States in the semifinals in April.
It should be Belgium, which was in command after Yanina Wickmayer beat Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-1, 7-6 (6) and Clijsters mopped up Melanie Oudin 6-0, 6-4.
Clijsters should seal the tie when she meets Mattek-Sands in Sunday's first reverse singles.
''Everybody always expects a lot but it isn't always that easy,'' Clijsters warned.