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Sanders, Gavrilova give Australia victory, Russians cruise

Sanders, Gavrilova give Australia victory, Russians cruise

Australia's Storm Sanders celebrates winning her group stage singles match against Belgium's Elise Mertens. (Photo: REUTERS/David W Cerny)

PRAGUE: Australia's Storm Sanders and Daria Gavrilova dug deep to record upset victories in their singles rubbers against Belgium to help the team win 2-1 in the Billie Jean King Cup finals on Tuesday.

The 131st-ranked Sanders rallied to a 3-6 7-6(5) 6-0 win over world number 18 Elise Mertens in their Group B tie on the O2 Arena's Centre Court after Gavrilova beat Greet Minnen 6-4 1-6 6-4 in her first competitive match since February.

"It feels absolutely amazing," Sanders said on court after winning on her debut in the competition.

"To do it in this moment, representing Australia, it's just the best feeling ever."

Needing to win the doubles to keep their semi-final prospects alive, Mertens, ranked number one in doubles, and Minnen returned to the court to beat Sanders and Ellen Perez 6-2 6-4 after Belgium defeated Belarus 2-1 on Monday.

However, the semi-final hopes of the Canadians, who stunned defending champions France on the opening day, ended as they were blanked 3-0 by the Russian Tennis Federation team, whose five players in Prague are ranked inside the world's top 40.

Under the new format, 12 teams have been split into four groups of round-robin play and the group winners progress to Friday's semis, with the championship tie scheduled on Saturday.

CANADA SETBACK

Canada suffered a setback before the start of play when Francoise Abanda, who beat France's Fiona Ferro on Monday, was ruled out with a blister on her left big toe.

Carol Zhao, who replaced Abanda, is ranked 300 places behind world number 28 Daria Kasatkina and the Russian showed the gulf in class with a 6-3 6-1 victory in under an hour on Court One.

World number 12 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is the highest ranked Russian in Prague but the 30-year-old had to raise her game in the deciding set to tame big-hitting Rebecca Marino 6-4 4-6 6-2 to give her team a 2-0 lead heading into the doubles.

Veronika Kudermetova and Liudmila Samsonova beat Marino and Gabriela Dabrowski 6-3 6-1 to complete the sweep for the Russians, who face France in Wednesday's morning session.

WINNING RETURN

The noisy Belgian fans were back at the O2 Arena with their drums, trumpets and other musical instruments to cheer on the team but it did not deter Gavrilova, who last played at the Australian Open and is ranked 412th.

Russian-born Gavrilova took a medical timeout after losing the second set against the 70th-ranked Minnen but then found a different gear.

"I felt really heavy in the legs and ended up being taped up for the third set," she said. "I felt a little bit my groin and I think most of it is coming from nerves, not because I'm unfit or anything like that.

"No matter how much you train and how fit you are match fitness is completely different and your body probably gets tight and it gets even like little spasms and things like that."

Australia who were without 43rd-ranked Ajla Tomljanovic due to illness on Tuesday will meet Belarus on Thursday in their final round-robin match in Group B.

Later on Tuesday, 18-time champions the United States begin their campaign against Slovakia in Group C, while Germany, who lost against the hosts Czech Republic, will look to stay alive against Switzerland in Group D.

Source: Reuters

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