By Michael Kahn
PRAGUE (Reuters) – The Czech Republic defended their Fed Cup title on Sunday as Karolina Pliskova became the home team’s hero with a starring performance in their thrilling 3-2 come-from-behind victory over Russia.
Pliskova not only won her singles rubber to tie the match at 2-2 but then returned to the court after just a 30-minute break to help secure another comeback victory in the final set of the deciding doubles.
It enabled the Czechs to celebrate their fourth Fed Cup triumph in five years in the event regarded as the World Cup of women’s tennis — and they succeeded despite Russian star Maria Sharapova winning both her singles matches over the weekend.
Having started the day level at 1-1, the home side fell behind in the best-of-five series after Sharapova defeated their top player, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the opening match of the day.
The 23-year-old Pliskova, playing in her first Fed Cup final, tied the score after cruising to a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova with a service game and punishing forehand that overpowered the Russian.
Pliskova was then forced to return to the court and partner Barbora Strycova in the decisive doubles after world No. 4 Lucie Safarova was unable to play due to an injury.
Though the pair lost the first set and looked in deep trouble, they rebounded to earn a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Russian pair, Elena Vesnina and Pavlkyuchenkova.
Pliskova, who reckoned she was not worried about fatigue after being thrust into the key doubles, said: “Even though we lost the first set, we believed we could win.
“I played two matches. It was the last match of the season and I gave everything I had.”
The Russians had also made a last-minute change in the doubles by electing to match Vesnina with Pavlyuchenkova rather than her Grand Slam-winning partner Ekaterina Makarova, who had not played since the U.S. Open.
It looked to be paying dividends as the visitors got off to a quick start, grabbing the first set against opponents who were playing doubles together for the first time.
Yet Pliskova and Strycova quickly recovered, storming back to take the next two sets in front of a boisterous home crowd at the O2 arena as the Russians committed 28 unforced errors.
Earlier, Kvitova, who had won her opening match on Saturday in the two-day final, started out strong but seemed to tire after the first set as Sharapova grew stronger.
“I played well in the first set and middle of the second,” Kvitova said. “The turning point came at the end of the second set when she broke me and held the serve.”
(Reporting by Michael Kahn,; Editing by Ian Chadband)