Maria Sharapova just missed out on adding another record to her long list of achievements on Sunday as Russia went down 3-2 to the Czech Republic on Sunday, with the weekend tie decided on the concluding doubles rubber.
The five-time grand slam winners, who lacks for almost nothing in tennis, did her part, winning both of her singles matches, but could only sit nervously in the stands to cheer her visiting compatriots as the hosts claimed a ninth title in the women’s team competition.
The side stands second in the all-time table behind the 17 of the US; Russia own four trophies, the last one lifted in 2011 in Moscow in another dramatic weekend which was only decided by the doubles.
Sharapova, keen to play at next summers Rio Olympics, was competing in her first Fed Cup final.
The world number four began the weekend with a Saturday singles win and reinforced that kind of form as she gave Russia the lead on Sunday with a 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 fightback victory over rival Petra Kvitova.
But Karolina Pliskova struck back for the Czechs to level the weekend at 2-2 with her defeat of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 6-4.
Pliskova returned after her win to play the doubles rubber, where she and Barbora Strycova insured the home win with a defeat of Russia’s Elena Vesnina and Pavlyuchenkova 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
After the tie was decided, the overjoyed winners did a victory lap in front of their public after claiming a fourth title in five editions.
The doubles was wound up as the Czechs broke deep in the third set for a 5-2 lead, then served out the triumph after appearing down and out in the opening set.
Sharapova was still pleased with her own performance, though disappointed for the side.
Her singles win over the sixth-ranked Kvitova earned revenge for a loss to her fellow Wimbledon champion in the Singapore semi-finals a fortnight ago.
“Petra played unbelievable in the first set, she was hitting so deep. I didn’t have the momentum at all.
“In the second I found a little window of opportunity and in the third I was the fresher one. Matches can change fast at this level.
“Even if I lost the first set, it’s never over for me until we play the last point. I don’t care who I’m playing; my team supported, that is the meaning of this event.
“There is no better feeling than being on the court for your country, for me, it’s an incredible achievement to have played in a Fed Cup final, winning both of my matches. These are a bonus for me at this point,” said the player, who missed three months of play after Wimbledon due to an arm injury.
Kvitova was overjoyed in victory despite losing her singles to Sharapova.
“It was hard to hit and play well for me today,” she said. “It was tough to lose, this one, but that’s tennis. I gave everything today and in the end we won. It’s a great feeling for all of us.” GNA