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Sharapova leads Russia into semis as France stun Italy
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Sharapova leads Russia into semis as France stun Italy

Fola Akintomide

(AFP) – Maria Sharapova made a rare but decisive Fed Cup appearance on Sunday to help Russia reach the semi-finals, where they will face Germany.

Champions Czech Republic stormed into the last four with a whitewash in Canada and will next face surprise package France, who stunned Italy in Genoa.

Former world number one Sharapova defeated Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 7-5 to give her country an unassailable 3-0 lead in Krakow.

French Open champion Sharapova was playing just her fourth Fed Cup tie since her 2008 debut, but in order to make the Olympics next year all players have to make themselves available for the annual women’s team tournament.

“It is a very important win for me,” said Sharapova, who has often been criticised for not playing enough Fed Cup matches.

“Playing for the national team there is always added pressure.”

Sharapova leads Russia into semis as France stun Italy
Russia’s Maria Sharapova returns the ball to Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska during their Fed Cup first round tennis match in Krakow on February 8, 2015

Sharapova had already beaten Urszula Radwanska in straight sets on Saturday, while veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova surprised Urszula’s sister Agnieszka in three sets.

Doubles pairing Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Vitaliya Diachenko made it 4-0 later on Sunday as they beat Klaudia Jans-Ignacik and Alicja Rosolska 6-4, 6-4.

Germany qualified for a last four trip to Russia on April 18-19 after Andrea Petkovic won her second successive gruelling three-set marathon.

Petkovic dug deep to seal a 6-3, 3-6, 8-6 win over Jarmila Gajdosova as Australia were overcome 3-1 in Stuttgart.

Just 24 hours earlier Petkovic defeated Samantha Stosur 12-10 in the third set after three hours, 13 minutes on court.

– Dramatic comeback –

“I was a bit tired from yesterday, but I always just played it one point at a time,” said a jaded Petkovic.

“I hope there is Champagne, but beer is also okay.

“We’ll mix in with the fans anyway, the atmosphere was incredible.”

Angelique Kerber had earlier put Germany on the brink of the semi-finals with a 6-2, 6-4 win over 2011 US Open winner Stosur.

In Genoa, Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia stunned the world’s top doubles pairing to give France a shock win over Italy.

The French pair, ranked 20 and 30 respectively in doubles, defeated reigning Wimbledon and Australian Open champions Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci 6-1, 6-2.

The two 21-year-olds had only played together once before, in a Fed Cup clash with Kazakhstan two years ago, but inspired their country to a dramatic comeback victory.

France had started the day 2-0 down in the tie having never before recovered from such a deficit.

And in front of them were the 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2013 Fed Cup champions who had not lost on home soil since 2008.

Earlier, Mladenovic defeated Errani 6-4, 6-3 before Garcia beat Camila Giorgi 4-6, 6-0, 6-2 to set up the deciding rubber.

The Czechs stormed into the last four after taking an unassailable 3-0 lead over Canada in Quebec City when Karolina Pliskova defeated Gabriela Dabrowski 6-4, 6-2.

In Friday’s opening matches, 22nd-ranked Pliskova made her Fed Cup debut with a 6-2, 6-4 triumph over Canadian teenager Francoise Abanda while Dabrowski, ranked 185th, fell to Tereza Smitkova 6-1, 6-2.