PRAGUE Fed Cup Finals: Sharapova spike down Pliskova stands 1-1


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PRAGUE (AP) — Maria Sharapova won to put Russia level with the defending champion Czech Republic at 1-1 in the Fed Cup final on Saturday.

Sharapova defeated Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 6-4, after two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova overcame a slow start to beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 2-6, 6-1, 6-1.

The reverse singles and doubles are on Sunday at O2 Arena, where security has been stepped up following the terrorist attacks in Paris.

The players and 13,000 spectators observed a minute of silence during the opening ceremony for the victims of the deadly attacks in the French capital. Because of the attacks, Czech President Milos Zeman canceled his visit to the final to attend a meeting of the country’s security council.

“As to everyone, it’s a big shock,” Sharapova said about the attacks. “It’s very sad. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s obviously tough to see the news, the pictures.”

Sharapova, who helped Russia win its last title in 2008 but was playing in her first final, wasted two match points at 5-3, and converted the third one on serve when Pliskova’s backhand went long.

She struggled at times on serve, hitting nine double faults, but compensated with 28 winners to Pliskova’s 11 in their first encounter.

“I didn’t serve my best, something I have to improve for tomorrow,” Sharapova said. “But overall I am very happy that I could win.”

The 11th-ranked Pliskova went 2-0 up in the second set but fourth-ranked Sharapova used strong returns to fight back, winning four straight games. She had to cope with another scare at 4-3, holding from 0-40, and pumped her fist when she won the game with a powerful forehand winner.

“I had my chances,” Pliskova said. “I should have played better.”

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Earlier, Kvitova won the opener when Pavlyuchenkova conceded on a double fault.

Kvitova, who has led the Czechs to three Fed Cup titles in the last four years, was not able to find her game in the first set before staging a comeback.

“I was nervous,” she said. “It was difficult. I was trying to hold my serve in the second set and then I had an opportunity to break her. That game was really key for the second set, and maybe for the match.”

It took Kvitova 10 break points to finally break the Russian for the first time, in the second game of the second set. Another break came for 4-0 when Pavlyuchenkova double-faulted.

Kvitova found her rhythm with her typical fierce groundstrokes to dominate the rest of the match, and improve to 7-3 against her opponent, and 26-6 in Fed Cup singles.

“Overall, I wasn’t playing bad,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “Just, she found her game, she started to hit crazy strokes, and then I was under pressure.”

Sunday’s reverse singles begin with Kvitova playing Sharapova, then Pliskova takes on Pavlyuchenkova.

“The last match of the season, you have to give everything that you have,” Sharapova said. “That’s the type of match you wanna see at the Fed Cup final.”

Sharapova has positive win-loss records against Kvitova but the Czech defeated her 6-3, 7-6 (3) in the WTA Finals last month.

In doubles, the Czech pair of Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova is set to play Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina.

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