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Pliskova, Strycova win doubles as Czechs beat Russia to clinch 4th Fed Cup title in 5 years


PRAGUE — Defending champion Czech Republic clinched its fourth Fed Cup title in five years after Karolina Pliskova and Barbora Strycova won the decisive doubles Sunday against the Russian pair of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Elena Vesnina.

The Czechs rallied to a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory to take the best-of-five series 3-2 on an indoor hard court at Prague's O2 Arena, where security was stepped up following the attacks in Paris.

Earlier Sunday, Maria Sharapova came from a set down to beat Petra Kvitova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the first reverse singles to give Russia a 2-1 lead.

Pliskova kept the Czechs in the final by defeating Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 6-4 in the second reverse singles to level the match at 2-2.

The Czechs broke the Russians in the opening game of the final set and again for 5-2 before Strycova served the match out. After Pavlyuchenkova hit the net with a backhand volley on the first match point, Strycova dropped to her knees, screaming in joy and prompting a noisy celebration.

The team danced on the court in celebration, while the fans roared in the stands.

"Unbelievable," Strycova said. "I'm speechless, it's a fantastic feeling. It was always my dream. We decided the tie, it can't be better."

Following the 1993 split of Czechoslovakia, the Czechs won their first title as an independent nation in 2011 by beating Russia in Moscow, and retained the trophy in Prague the following year.

They claimed their third Fed Cup title in four years last November by beating Germany in the final in Prague. Czechoslovakia won five times, including three straight from 1983-85.

"We tried, we did our best," Russian captain Anastasia Myskina said. "I'm proud of my girls, they played good. We lost, that's the end of the story."

A rare presence by Sharapova was a boost for the Russians and the five-time Grand Slam champion made her presence felt by winning both singles matches.

"I came here to play two singles matches and I did my job," Sharapova said.

She played only four Fed Cup ties previously, all in the first round, and all won.

This year, keen to qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, she contributed two wins in the first-round defeat of Poland, and missed the semifinal win over Germany because of a leg injury.

"It's so special, really," Sharapova said about playing the Fed Cup. "In an event like this you're not just playing for yourself, you're playing for your teammates, for your country. It's a very unique feeling, it's so special."

Pliskova got the decisive break in the ninth game of the second set against Pavlyuchenkova and closed out with a service winner to delight 13,000 cheering fans.

"It's definitely one of my biggest wins of my career," said the 23-year-old rising star of Czech tennis. "I really enjoyed the match and I'm really happy that I won."

Pliskova converted her only break point in the first set for a 5-3 lead before serving it out with a forehand winner. She improved her Fed Cup singles record to 3-1.

In an earlier matchup of two top 10 players, the fourth-ranked Sharapova went 5-2 up in the final set against Kvitova before closing out with a forehand winner.

"Personally, it's an incredible achievement for me because I've never been in the Fed Cup final," Sharapova said. "And I won two of my matches."

In Saturday's singles, Kvitova put the host team ahead by beating Pavlyuchenkova 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 before Sharapova leveled the series by defeating Pliskova 6-3, 6-4.

Sharapova improved her head-to-head record against Kvitova to 7-4.

"I felt that once I got the second set I got the energy back," the Russian said.

Kvitova attacked with her big forehand early, putting Sharapova under pressure.

"It hurts," Kvitova said. "But I know I did all I could. It was just not enough."

The Czech player broke Sharapova in the opening game and again in the final game of the first set when the Russian hit the net with a forehand volley.

"Petra played unbelievable in the first set. She was so aggressive, hitting really deep all the strokes. I didn't have the momentum in the first set," Sharapova said.

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