MOSCOW -- With Maria Sharapova cheering from the bench,
Russia moved within one victory of its third Fed Cup title.
Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Mara Santangelo of Italy 6-1, 6-2
Saturday to the put the Russians ahead 2-0 in the top team event in
women's tennis. Anna Chakvetadze struggled past Francesca Schiavone
6-4, 4-6, 6-4 in the opener. Reverse singles and doubles in the
best-of-five format are Sunday.
Sharapova has never played for Russia in the Fed Cup because of injuries and is still bothered by an ailing right shoulder. She was
invited by Russia captain Shamil Tarpischev to practice with the
team, and threw her support behind her teammates Saturday.
Russian media reports have suggested that Sharapova's presence was a source of tension for the team, and that she was not part of the Fed Cup lineup because of friction with other players. But
Kuznetsova said "there is no problem between us and Maria
Sharapova. ... She's an absolutely OK girl."
Russia is unbeaten in three matches against Italy, and won the
Fed Cup title in 2004 and '05. Italy defeated Belgium to win its
first Fed Cup title last season.
Kuznetsova, the 2004 U.S. Open champion, dispatched Santangelo in 57 minutes, closing the match with three consecutive aces.
Chakvetadze, a U.S. Open semifinalist, won only two points in the first two games as she fell behind 2-0 in the first set. But
she broke back immediately, capitalizing on Schiavone's three
double-faults, and a second break in the seventh game was enough to
win the set.
The two traded breaks to start the second, and the 25th-ranked Schiavone then broke again to go up 4-2.
Chakvetadze broke back to make it 5-4 after the Italian netted a low backhand volley. But she was unable to keep the momentum,
falling 40-love down on her serve in the next game and Schiavone
evened the match at 1-1 when Chakvetadze's return went wide.
In the decisive third set, Chakvetadze fell behind 3-0, before
fighting back to make it 3-3.
"I thought we were going to lose the match," Chakvetadze said. "But I said to myself that I have to fight."
Schiavone held her next serve before Chakvetadze won the next three games, ending the match with a long backhand cross on her
second match point.
"I will practice," Chakvetadze said. "I have to serve much