MOSCOW, RUSSIA: Alize Cornet overcame an injured ankle to produce a stunning comeback to beat Svetlana Kuznetsova and Virginie Razzano overcame former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova in straight sets to give France a shock 2-0 lead in their Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group first round tie against Russia.
This leaves the French, who were outsiders coming into the tie, needing just one more win to knock out a star-studded Russian outfit in the first round.
Cornet had never won a Fed Cup singles match before today and she did not get off to the best of starts as she struggled in the opening exchanges with Kuznetsova. The Russian was in dominant form from the baseline and broke the 21-year-old in only the second game of the match.
Cornet scurried valiantly around the baseline, but Kuznetsova was just too powerful from the back of the court, and despite the odd unforced error, she raced to take the first set 63.
An early break in the second set seemed to put the Russian in control, but Cornet hit back with a break of her own as Kuznetsova began to struggle on her first serve, which was just above the 50 percent mark, and Cornet took full advantage to send the match into a deciding set.
“I was a set down and 0-2 down, I just tried to keep calm and my focus and just keep on trying to do what I had to do, and I just started to play better and better,” said Cornet.
Neither player was able to hold serve in the final set for the first six games, but worryingly for Cornet she rolled her ankle after trying to hit a forehand, and, thankfully for the visitors, the 21-year-old managed to return to the court following a lengthy injury time out.
“When I came back to my chair and to my captain, I didn’t know what condition my ankle was in, but I said to myself, I would rather die than give up on this match, and I would have played with one leg, such was my desire not to retire,” said the world No. 67.
Encouragingly for Cornet, her movement around the court was not hampered greatly and the 21-year-old was not to be denied as she broke Kuznetsova again in the ninth game, before holding serve to seal her first-ever Fed Cup victory and put France into a 1-0 lead.
Following Cornet’s heroics, the pressure was firmly on Maria Sharapova to try to level the tie for the home side as she faced Virginie Razzano. The pair would have known each other’s games well, as they met at last month’s Australian Open, where the world No. 13 prevailed in straight sets.
The opening set was littered with breaks, as Sharapova’s serve failed to fire and Razzano finally capitalized by earning a decisive break in the ninth game, before holding serve to move into the lead.
“I was giving her far too many free points, I wasn’t serving well, and I wasn’t really being aggressive on the court and I was giving her the opportunity to hit the first ball, and I think the court really suited her today,” said Sharapova.
The French woman seemed to have the match under control as she raced into a 4-1 lead in the second set, but Sharapova reeled off three straight games to get herself back on level terms.
Just as it seemed that the world No. 13 would take the match into a decider, Razzano again broke her opponent in the ninth game, before taking advantage of her first match point to seal a straight sets victory in just under an hour-and-a -half, and Razzano was understandably delighted with her performance.
“I put a lot of pressure on Maria’s returns today and she made a lot of double faults today. I managed to serve well today and I am really pleased with the way I played,” said Razzano.
Russia is under immense pressure now, as one more defeat will see it eliminated in the first round for the first time in six years. However, Sharapova believes Russia still has a chance of turning this match around.
“We are going to go out tomorrow and fight. We never give up and that’s not what our country is known for, and we are going to go out there and battle for what is ours.”