Russia secured its third Fed Cup title Sunday after Svetlana Kuznetsova rallied to beat Francesca Schiavone 4-6, 7-6 (7), 7-5 in the first reverse singles and gave the hosts an insurmountable 3-0 lead over Italy.
Elena Vesnina then made it 4-0 for Russia, beating Mara Santangelo 6-2, 6-4 in the second reverse singles. The doubles match was canceled.
Anna Chakvetadze and Kuznetsova won their opening singles Saturday — against Schiavone and Santangelo respectively — to lift Russia to a comfortable 2-0 lead after the first day of play in the best-of-five finals on the hard court at the Luzhniki Arena.
Russia, which won the Fed Cup title in 2004 and '05, remained unbeaten in four matches against Italy, the defending Fed Cup champions.
Maria Sharapova cheered from the bench, and joined in the celebration after the win. She was invited by Russia captain Shamil Tarpischev to practice with the team this week, but she didn't play because of a lingering shoulder injury.
After trading breaks early in the first set Sunday, Schiavone won three consecutive games to go 1-0 up in the match after 40 minutes.
"(Schiavone) made me play some very inconvenient tennis," said Kuznetsova, who appeared flustered in the first set.
Serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set, the Italian fell 15-40 down. Schiavone saved one break point before the Russian leveled at 5-5 and forced a tiebreaker.
Kuznetsova, the 2004 U.S. Open champion and runner-up this season, saved two match points in the tiebreaker before serving a powerful winner to prevail 9-7 and stay in the match.
In the decisive third set, Schiavone, ranked 25th, jumped to a 4-1 lead with a break in the fourth game, but lost the advantage in the seventh when she double-faulted on her serve and then returned an easy forehand wide.
Second-ranked Kuznetsova leveled 4-4 and went up 5-4, breaking the Italian in the ninth game. But Schiavone showed no signs of surrender and hammered a smash to level at 5-5.
Kuznetsova made a decisive break in the 11th game, when Schiavone appeared tired and netted two returns and a backhand slice. The Russian ended the match, which lasted 2 hours, 44 minutes, with her first match point.
"I really wanted to bring the victory and this time it worked," said Kuznetsova, who lost her two singles matches when Russia beat France in the final in 2004 to win its first title. Since then Kuznetsova has not played for Russia until this season. She won both her singles to help Russia eliminate Spain 5-0 in the semifinals.
Kuznetsova complained that abdominal muscle problems had undermined her serve this weekend, but she served three aces against Schiavone, the AP reports.
Chakvetadze looked slightly rusty from the start allowing Schiavone to break early for a 2-0 lead. But the Moscow resident soon found her composure and broke back twice to take the opening set in 39 minutes.
The pair traded breaks throughout the second set but a more precise Schiavone, currently 25th in the WTA rankings, pulled the scores level at one set all after one hour 25 minutes on court.
The 27-year-old Italian broke early in the deciding set for a comfortable 3-0 lead, but Chakvetadze broke back in the fifth game to level at three games all.
Schiavone lost her nerve in the ninth game, producing a series of unforced errors which allowed Chakvetadze to break again minutes before she won the set and the match.
After the match Schiavone blamed her poor service game for the defeat.
"I will practice. I have to serve much better," she said.
Sunday's schedule comprises reversed singles, followed by the doubles rubbers, the AFP reports.