MILAN

 

Roberta Vinci securedItaly's fifth Fed Cup final appearance in eight years on Monday after battling past Lucie Safarova of theCzechRepublicto give the hosts an unassailable lead on the red clay ofPalermo.

Vinci's 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 win over Safarova handedItalya 3-1 lead ahead of the dead doubles rubber to be played Monday afternoon.Italywill now meetRussia, winners Sunday overSlovakia, in the final on November 2-3.

The hosts had powered to a 2-0 lead on Saturday after straight singles victories for Sara Errani and Vinci over Safarova and Petra Kvitova respectively. FormerWimbledonwinner Kvitova gave the Czechs hope of launching a fightback when she defeated Errani 2-6, 6-2, 6-0 on Sunday.

However any momentum gained, and indeed the day's play, was soon halted by rain which had already disrupted proceedings, prompting the decision to carry the tie over to Monday. Vinci, who was tied at 1-1 from her previous two encounters with Safarova, showed little fear on her way to a commanding 6-3 win in the first set. Safarova put up more resistance in the second and after spurning the chance to close out the set while serving at 5-4, she made amends in the tiebreak where she dropped just two points to force a decider.

The Czech burst into a 2-0 lead in the third set but Vinci broke back and maintained the pressure to take a 5-3 lead before sealing victory on her third match point. Flavia Pennetta and Francesa Schiavone are slated to face Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka in the doubles later Monday.

Meanwhile, Serena and Venus Williams delivered singles victories Sunday to lift the United States to a 3-2 Fed Cup playoff victory over Sweden that will keep America in the elite World Group. Venus Williams persevered to deliver the clinching point, sealing a 6-3, 7-5 victory over Johanna Larsson on her eighth match point. The seven-time Grand Slam champion had been rolling toward the win, serving for the match and the tie at 5-4 in the second set when she delivered three double faults to drop her serve. She immediately broke back to take a 6-5 lead, but had to claw through a 12th game that went to deuce nine times.

The Americans then opted out of the meaningless doubles, givingSwedena walkover win and making the final score of the tie 3-2. Venus was given singles duty at the last minute byUScaptain Mary Joe Fernandez, who apparently felt that 20-year-old Sloane Stephens hadn't bounced back adequately from her error-strewn 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 loss to Sofia Arvidsson in the opening match of the tie on Saturday.

World number one Serena Williams had put the Americans back on track Saturday with a win over Larsson, and she put the 17-time championUnited Statesup 2-1 with a dominant 6-2, 6-1 win over Arvidsson on Sunday. Serena fired 10 aces and broke Arvidsson twice in each set en route to the victory.

Meanwhile, Four-time championsRussiabecame the first team to come back from 2-0 down in a Fed Cup semi-final to complete a 3-2 triumph overSlovakiaon Sunday.

Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina sealed the crucial point when they beat Dominika Cibulkova and Daniela Hantuchova 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 in the deciding doubles.Russiawill now face eitherItalyor defending champions, theCzechRepublicin November's final.Italywere leading the Czechs 2-1 when rain caused a suspension of theirPalermotie until Monday.

Makarova was praised for her efforts after she played two three-set matches on Sunday having not featured at all on Saturday when Russia slipped 2-0 down to the 2002 champions. "She's amazing. We were joking that she's like a soldier," Makarova's doubles partner Elena Vesnina said. "She has a bleeding knee and she won such an amazing match - one of the most emotional matches she has won. And then in the doubles, she was feeling tired, but she's a great fighter."