Russia in BJK Cup semis, eliminates defending champ France

US and World Sports

Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenko celebrates after defeating Alize Cornet of France in their group A Billie Jean King Cup finals tennis match in Prague, Czech Republic, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

PRAGUE (AP) — Russia eliminated defending champion France to become the first nation to reach the semifinals of the Billie Jean King Cup on Wednesday.

After sweeping Canada 3-0 the previous day, Russia needed only one win from the best-of-three match against France to advance from Group A.

It could rely on its top player, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, to deliver it.

The 12th-ranked Pavlyuchenkova rallied to beat Alize Cornet 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 to earn Russia the semifinal spot.

“I’m so happy and so proud of myself,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “It was an incredible match. It was very good tennis but the more important was the amazing fighting spirit from both of us.”

After dropping the first set, the Russian broke Cornet in the opening games of the following two sets to improve her record against her 59th-ranked opponent to 7-1, hitting 34 winners on the way.

Russia will play the winner of Group C, where the United States faces Spain later Wednesday.

After the 2019 champion was upset by outsider Canada 2-1 in its opener on Monday, France needed to beat Russia 3-0 to advance.

Last year’s edition was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The 12 teams in the finals are divided into four groups of three teams in a new format of the competition formerly known as the Fed Cup.

Only the group winners advance to Friday’s semifinals.

Earlier, Clara Burel kept France alive, winning the opening singles.

The 77th-ranked Burel upset Ekaterina Alexandrova, ranked 32nd, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 for her first victory over a top-50 player in her singles debut in the competition.

The Russian hit 34 winners but also produced 44 unforced errors before double-faulting on Burel’s fourth match point.

“It’s very special. It was the first match for my country and I was very happy to be able to win today,” the 20-year old Burel said.

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