MOSCOW: Mary Pierce edged Russian teenager Vera Zvonareva 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 on Thursday to send France into the Fed Cup final against the United States, who beat Belgium 4-1 in their other semi-final.
Pierce's win gave the French an insurmountable 3-1 lead against Russia – later reduced to 3-2 by a home victory in the doubles – knocking the host nation out of the tournament.
Pierce, the former French and Australian Open champion who has not represented her country in Fed Cup since the 1997 final, had too much experience for the 19-year-old Zvonareva, who was playing her third Fed Cup match.
Afterwards, Pierce credited team captain Guy Forget for her victory.
“At the end of the match Guy told me to be more aggressive and just go for my shots,” she said. “For some reason I wasn't aggressive enough and he reminded me of that.”
What was a joy for France was a huge disappointment for Russia and the thousands of fans in attendance, including former Russian President Boris Yeltsin.
“Of course I'm disappointed, but I think I gained some valuable experience and hopefully next time I won't be that nervous,” Zvonareva said.
In the earlier match, world number four Amelie Mauresmo overpowered Anastasia Myskina 6-7, 6-3, 6-4 to give her team a 2-1 lead.
The French victory was especially sweet for Forget as it avenged last year's defeat to a Russian team led by his counterpart Shamil Tarpishchev in the Davis Cup final.
American Lisa Raymond had a role in the winning of three of her country's four points in the other semi-final against a weakened Belgium team playing without the world's top two players in Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters.
First, Raymond trounced Els Callens 6-2, 6-1 on Wednesday before crushing Clijsters' younger sister Elke by the same score in Thursday's action.
Within minutes of her second victory, Raymond was back on court in partnership with Martina Navratilova and the American pair crushed Clijsters and Caroline Maes 6-1, 6-4 in the dead doubles rubber to complete a 4-1 victory. – Reuters