The US proved there’s life beyond the Williams sisters on Sunday by staging a remarkable recovery to reach the Fed Cup final, where they will face Italy, who knocked out defending champions Russia.
Liezel Huber teamed up with Bethanie Mattek-Sands to give the US, a record 17-time winners, a 3-2 victory over the Czech Republic in a thrilling deciding rubber in Brno.
Iveta Benesova and Kveta Peschke, aiming to put their country into a first final in 11 years, led 6-2, 5-2 and held match point before the Americans battled back to secure a 2-6, 7-6 (7/2), 6-1 win and a first final spot since 2003.
Although the US will have to travel to Italy for the final on Nov. 7 and Nov. 8, they will have history on their side, having won all nine meetings against the Italians.
After the teams were level at 1-1 overnight, Lucie Safarova beat Mattek-Sands 6-3, 6-1 before teenager Alex Glatch, ranked No. 144 in the world, eased past Petra Kvitova 6-1, 6-2.
Italy, the champions in 2006, will host the final after Francesca Schiavone’s battling 7-6 (9/7), 4-6, 6-2 win over Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the fourth rubber of the tie on the clay courts of Castellaneta Marina.
The Italian world No. 44 scored her second three-set win of the weekend to give the hosts an unassailable 3-1 lead over the Russians, who have won four of the last five Fed Cup titles.
Earlier, world No. 9 Svetlana Kuznetsova kept Russia, playing without world No. 1 Dinara Safina and Maria Sharapova, alive by defeating Flavia Pennetta 6-0, 6-3.
In the playoffs, Serbia reached the World Group for the first time when they beat five-time champions Spain.
Leading 2-0 overnight in Lleida, world No. 4 Jelena Jankovic shook off a fever to beat Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, giving Serbia an insurmountable lead.
Also making sure of World Group places were Germany, who beat China 3-2, and Ukraine, who whitewashed Argentina 5-0.
Germany had led China 2-0 overnight, but the Asian giants leveled when Zheng Jie beat Anna-Lena Groenefeld 7-5, 6-4 and Peng Shuai saw off Tatjana Malek 6-2, 2-6, 7-5.
Groenefeld and Sabine Lisicki then defeated Zheng and Peng 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the doubles to secure a 3-2 win.
The other playoff saw France edge Slovakia 3-2 in Limoges with Amelie Mauresmo and Nathalie Dechy winning the decisive doubles against Daniela Hantuchova and Dominika Cibulkova 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.
The win preserved France’s World Group status, which they have held since 1963.