Russia and Czechs level in Fed Cup final
Russia and the Czech Republic were level at 1-1 after the first day of their Fed Cup final following easy wins for their team leaders in Moscow.
After Petra Kvitova had given the Czechs a 1-0 lead by overpowering Maria Kirilenko 6-2 6-2 in the opening rubber, Svetlana Kuznetsova thrashed Lucie Safarova 6-2 6-3 in the second singles to revive the hosts' hopes of winning their fifth Fed Cup title since 2004.
Wimbledon champion Kvitova had little trouble, brushing aside Kirilenko in just over an hour after breaking her nervous-looking opponent twice in each set.
The 27th-ranked Russian was a last-minute replacement for world number seven Vera Zvonareva, who pulled out of the two-day tie at Moscow's indoor arena with a shoulder injury.
After Kirilenko managed to hold her serve twice at the start of the match, the Czech left-hander took complete control, reeling off the next five games to wrap up the first set in 32 minutes.
The second set took just a couple of minutes longer.
After breaking Kirilenko in the opening game, the world number two comfortably held her own serve to notch up her fifth consecutive victory in Fed Cup competition this year.
"Well, the score may have looked easy but I still had to work for my points," Kvitova said.
"Nevertheless, I should have enough energy left for tomorrow's match and if my team need my help I could even play the doubles," added the in-form Czech, who has won two titles, including last week's WTA Championships, in less than a month.
"I'm the team leader and there's always pressure on me to perform well but now I feel less pressure after winning this match. Tomorrow I'll try to give my team another victory as we need three points to win the tie."
The Czechs are bidding for their first Fed Cup title as an independent nation after splitting from Slovakia in 1993.
Their last triumph came 23 years ago when, playing as Czechoslovakia, they beat the former Soviet Union 2-1 in the 1988 final.
Kuznetsova spent a little more time on the court than Kvitova before prevailing over Safarova in the baseline battle.
"I felt a huge pressure as I knew I had to win my match to keep us in this tie," said Kuznetsova, who has slipped to number 19 in the world after an inconsistent season.
"But now I have a lot more experience than let's say in 2004 so I managed to keep myself under control," added the former US Open and French Open champion, who made her Fed Cup debut in 2004 before leading Russia to their maiden title later that year.
Looking ahead to Sunday's match against Kvitova, Kuznetsova said with a wry smile: "I need to go home as I feel too tired now. Just kidding. Don't worry, I'll have enough strength to fight her for as long as I have to."
Russia captain Shamil Tarpishchev indicated he might replace Kirilenko, who was appearing in only her second Fed Cup match after losing to Kim Clijsters in straight sets in 2006, with 15th ranked Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for the second reverse rubber on Sunday.
"It was a tactical decision to play Kirilenko on Saturday so we'll try to improve a few things on Sunday," Tarpishchev said.