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The Russians face the US after beating Spain 2-1 and taking first place in Group C in the other game of the day at Prague’s O2 Arena. The RTF team, whose five players are in the top 40 in the world in Prague, only had to win one game in their second round robin tie in Group A after beating Canada 3-0 in the opening game.
Ekaterina Alexandrova lost the first rubber to Clara Burel, so Pavlyuchenkova, the highest placed among the Russian teams, stayed in 12th place and had to defeat 59th Cornet in order not to make her fate dependent on doubles.
Cornet showed heart against the hard-hitting Russian to win the opening set, but Pavlyuchenkova found extra gear and strength to beat a grueling match 5-7 6-4 6-2.
Pavlyuchenkova broke Cornet’s serve three times in the decisive set and turned her first match point with a flawless drop volley before breaking into a jig with teammate Daria Kasatkina on the pitch.
“I’m really, really tired right now because I gave it my all, physically and emotionally,” Pavlyuchenkova told reporters.
“I actually didn’t feel that great before the match and I was a little slow in the first set for some reason … but in the end I found this amazing energy and was in that kind of zone and mood.”
Burel and Cornet returned for the doubles in hopes of at least helping France win, but Russian pair Liudmila Samsonova and Veronika Kudermetova completely outdid them in a 6-2 6-1 win.
In the new format of the tournament, 12 teams were divided into four round groups and the group winners advance to the semi-finals on Friday, with the final taking place on Saturday.
The USA, 18-time record champions, were under pressure after losing to Slovakia in the opening game and knew that only a convincing win against Spain would be enough.
Sloane Stephens opened with a 6-4 6-4 win over Nuria Parrizas Diaz before Danielle Collins beat up Sara Sorribe’s Tormo for just one game to seal the tie.
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A straight-set win for the Spanish couple Aliona Bolsova and Rebeka Masarova over Caroline Dolehide and Coco Vandeweghewas was purely academic as Kathy Rinaldis USA secured first place in the group with a superior set win-loss percentage.
Russia, which won the former Fed Cup four times between 2004 and 2008, will face the US on Friday.
The action on Thursday closes the group game with Australia against Belarus in group B and Switzerland against the host Czech Republic in group D.