MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia completed a remarkable fightback to beat Slovakia 3-2 in a dramatic Fed Cup semi-final by sweeping the last three rubbers on Sunday.
The Russians will play Italy or the Czech Republic in the final in November. Italy led the top-ranked Czechs 2-1 after a rain-interrupted second day in Palermo and the tie will be finished on Monday.
Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina secured the winning point for hosts Russia when they outlasted Dominika Cibulkova and Daniela Hantuchova 4-6 6-3 6-1 in the decisive doubles to clinch the two-day tie on Moscow clay.
After splitting the first two sets, the Russians broke Cibulkova in the fourth game and Hantuchova in the sixth to run away in the final set as the Slovak duo slowly ran out of steam.
“We hadn’t played such hard and dramatic matches in Fed Cup for a very long time,” Vesnina told Russian television NTV Plus.
“After a disastrous first day we still believed we could win. Luckily we did it.”
Slovakia, appearing in their first semi-final since 2002 when they went on to win the competition for the only time, led 2-0 after the first day when Cibulkova beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 5-7 6-1 6-4 and Hantuchova made short work of Kirilenko 6-2 6-4.
But the Russians, who had won both previous ties on clay against Slovakia by the same 3-2 score, came roaring back on Sunday urged on by a partisan home crowd.
Missing their top two players, world number two Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova, who led them to their last Fed Cup title in 2008, the hosts found an unlikely hero in 24th-ranked Makarova.
After replacing Pavlyuchenkova for Sunday’s reverse singles the blonde Muscovite beat Hantuchova 6-3 4-6 6-4 to level the tie at 2-2 after Russia number one Maria Kirilenko dispatched Cibulkova 7-5 6-1 in the earlier match.
“She was our true hero today, she kept us going,” Vesnina told reporters, pointing to her doubles partner.
World number 13 Kirilenko, who looked out of breath and committed numerous errors in her 6-2 6-4 defeat by Hantuchova on Saturday, was also running on all cylinders against Cibulkova.
“After yesterday’s failure I managed to find my tennis today and it was the key to the match,” said Kirilenko, who reeled off consecutive games in the second set to seal the win.
Italy and the Czech Republic will go into a third day after Czech Petra Kvitova beat Sara Errani 2-6 6-2 6-0 on Sunday.
Kvitova, who lost every service game in her match against Roberta Vinci on Saturday, finally held at the third attempt against Errani and despite struggling with a shoulder injury she found her form in the second set.
The former Wimbledon champion began to dominate the contest and although Errani saved three match points Kvitova sealed victory in just under two hours.
Persistent rain had delayed that match by five hours and the singles clash between Czech Lucie Safarova and Vinci will start at 1100 local time on Monday.
If Safarova wins, the tie will go to a decisive doubles.
Reporting by Gennady Fyodorov, editing by Ed Osmond