MOSCOW, RUSSIA: Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated Lucie Safarova 62 63 to bring Russia back onto level terms at the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final, after Petra Kvitova had given Czech Republic the early lead on Saturday.
With the pressure firmly on her shoulders, Kuznetsova produced a dominant performance to sweep aside Safarova in 1 hour 22 minutes and leave the tie perfectly poised ahead of the final day.
Kuznetsova, a three-time Fed Cup winner, raced out of the blocks to take a 4-0 lead in the first set and, despite Safarova holding serve twice, the Russian served out the set to snatch the early advantage.
The two players exchanged breaks at the start of the second set, but as soon as Kuznetsova broke her opponent for a second time at 3-2 the result was never in any doubt. A further break at 5-3 sealed the win.
As it happened...
KUZNETSOVA WINS 6-2 6-3
Kuznetsova 6-2 6-3 Safarova
Game, set and match to Kuznetsova! A winning backhand return at 15-30 sets up two match points, but she only needs one as another winning backhand return is dispatched down the line. Impressive performance from Kuznetsova, although Safarova will be disappointed with her display.
Kuznetsova 6-2 5-3 Safarova*
Great hustle from Kuznetsova at 15-0 as she scurries around at the back of the court before tossing up a defensive lob that Safarova nets. She moves to within a game of victory when her opponent nets another unforced error, this time a forehand, at 40-15.
Kuznetsova* 6-2 4-3 Safarova
Comfortable hold for Safarova when a forehand approach at 40-15 doesn't come back. Outrageous winning return from Kuznetsova on the previous point, one of those shots that you only go for when you're 40-0 down!
Kuznetsova 6-2 4-2 Safarova*
Brave play from Kuznetsova at 15-30 as she approaches the net and executes a delicate drop volley. Two points later and a winning cross court forehand gives her a two-game advantage.
Kuznetsova* 6-2 3-2 Safarova
A double-handed backhand pass screams past Safarova at the net for a winner to give Kuznetsova another break. Double faults are proving very costly for Safarova. Her DF count is up to seven now, compared to just two from Kuznetsova.
Kuznetsova 6-2 2-2 Safarova*
Kuznetsova holds. The atmosphere is heating up now that the match is competitive. Crucial spell for Safarova coming up. She's dragged herself back into it but can't afford to let her foot off the gas.
Kuznetsova* 6-2 1-2 Safarova
Much better from the Czech player as she backs up her break of serve with an all-important hold, and an easy one at that. At 40-15, an inside-out forehand approach had too much on it for Kuznetsova. Game on!
Kuznetsova 6-2 1-1 Safarova*
Interesting. Just when it looked like Kuznetsova was going to run away with it Safarova breaks back, courtesy of an ugly double fault at 15-40 that cleared the service line by some distance. No need for HawkEye on that one!
Kuznetsova* 6-2 1-0 Safarova
Safarova needed a quick start to the second set but she hasn't got it! She wasted three game points before sending a forehand long to hand Kuznetsova another break. The best point of the match at 40-30 when Kuznetsova ended a fine rally by chasing down a drop shot and flicking a forehand winner cross court, much to the delight of the home fans.
FIRST SET KUZNETSOVA 6-2
Kuznetsova 6-2 Safarova*
A tight HawkEye decision goes in favour of Kuznetsova on the opening point and, despite a double fault immediately after, she goes on to take the set on her second opportunity - her fifth set point overall - when a wayward forehand goes long from Safarova.
Kuznetsova* 5-2 Safarova
Gutsy play from Safarova, saving three set points with heavy forehands from the back. But despite that hold, Kuznetsova will now serve for the first set.
Kuznetsova 5-1 Safarova*
Safarova had a sniff in that game, again using her forehand effectively to claw back to 30-30. But two big serves later and Kuznetsova is just one game away from the first set.
Kuznetsova* 4-1 Safarova
Safarova is off and running! She finally starts using her leftie serve and forehand to good effect. On her second game point, a big serve out wide is followed by two heavy forehands, the second of which Kuznetsova gets racket to but can’t get back. It might be too late for this set, but at least it will give her some confidence.
Kuznetsova 4-0 Safarova*
Safarova sprays a backhand return wide at 40-30 to hand Kuznetsova another hold. It’s been a terrible start for her. She needs to settle down quickly otherwise Kuznetsova will be out of sight.
Kuznetsova* 3-0 Safarova
The Russian is well and truly in control here. Safarova hits an ace down the middle at 15-40 to save a break point, but Kuznetsova comes to the net on the next point and the Czech leftie sends an attempted pass sailing long.
Kuznetsova 2-0 Safarova*
Heavy first serves from Kuznetsova hand her a 40-15 lead. Safarova saves the first game point with a backhand winner cross court, but the Russian takes her next chance when Safarova pushes a forehand deep after a long rally.
Kuznetsova* 1-0 Safarova
Terrible start for Safarova. After going 30-0 up she pumps in two double faults and then a pair of unforced errors on the forehand. Very nervy. That was a gimme for Kuznetsova, not that she’s complaining.
Choruses of “Sveta, Sveta, Sveta” from the Russian fans as the players get ready to start. Then the Czech band pipes up from behind the team bench. Atmosphere bubbling nicely in the Olympic Stadium. Safarova to serve first, and we’re off…
The players enter the court as the crowd start to filter back into the stadium after the break. Both are looking pretty similar - red skirt and blue top - but Kuznetsova has a distinctive white bandanna, worn 'headband' style.
The Russian looks particularly focussed and she’ll need to be as there’s big pressure on her shoulders after Kvitova gave the Czechs the early lead. Safarova will fancy this one. She certainly knows the venue after reaching the semis of the Kremlin Cup here just a fortnight ago.