Russia is back in the Fed Cup final, but it took a dramatic comeback against the Slovak Republic on Sunday to do it.
The Slovaks appeared on the way to their first final since winning their lone Fed Cup championship in 2002 after grabbing a 2-0 lead on Saturday, but Maria Kirilenko started the Russian revolt on Sunday and Ekaterina Makarova tied it before the doubles team of Makarova and Elena Vesnina completed the stunning rally.
Russia will play in the Fed Cup final in November against either Italy or the Czech Republic. The Italians had a chance to wrap up that semifinal on Sunday with one singles win after taking a 2-0 lead on Saturday, but inclement weather in Palermo allowed only one match to be played and Petra Kvitova kept the Czechs alive. That tie will resume on Monday.
Kirilenko dropped a 6-2, 6-4 decision on Saturday against Daniela Hantuchova in the second opening singles rubber, but she made sure there wasn't a sweep with a 7-5, 6-1 triumph on Sunday against Dominika Cibulkova.
Cibulkova had beaten Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in Saturday's opening singles match, but Makarova was selected to play Sunday's second singles match for the Russians and she delivered the tying point in front of a frenzied home crowd with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win over Hantuchova.
It then came down to the doubles, and while Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev's decision to replace Pavlyuchenkova in singles worked to perfection, Slovak skipper Matej Liptak's move to change his doubles team on Sunday did not.
Jana Cepelova and Magdalena Rybarikova were the scheduled doubles team for the Slovaks, but Cibulkova and Hantuchova took the court for the fifth rubber and won the first set to stem the Russian momentum.
Only briefly, however.
Makarova and Vesnina, an established duo that won the title at Indian Wells earlier this year and reached the semifinals at the Australian Open, rallied to capture the second set. It was even in the third until a break by the Russian tandem made it 3-1. The Slovaks, who combined to play all five matches this weekend, then appeared to run out of gas and didn't win another game.
Russia will try for its fifth Fed Cup championship, having previously won the title in 2004 and '05 and again back-to-back in 2007-08. The Russians last reached the final 2011, falling to the Czechs in a 3-2 decision.
The Slovaks fell to 0-3 against Russia in Fed Cup play, also losing in 1999 and 2001.