MOSCOW, Sep 17 (Reuters) Russia won their third Fed Cup title in four years when Svetlana Kuznetsova saved two match points in a second-set tiebreaker before beating Italy's Francesca Schiavone 4-6 7-6 7-5 in the first reverse singles.
Kuznetsova's victory gave the home team an unassailable 3-0 lead over last year's surprise winners Italy in the final at Moscow's Luzhniki arena yesterday.
Russia eventually won the two-day tie 4-0. Elena Vesnina stepped in for world number five Anna Chakvetadze to beat Italy number two Mara Santangelo 6-2 6-4 in the dead singles rubber before the two teams decided to cancel the doubles match.
Heavy favourites Russia had enjoyed a commanding 2-0 lead after day one when Kuznetsova and Chakvetadze both won their singles.
Kuznetsova, who crushed Santangelo 6-1 6-2 on Saturday, had to dig deep to pull off the win against the combative Schiavone in a see-saw battle that lasted two hours 45 minutes.
''It was much harder that I expected,'' Kuznetsova, who was suffering from an abdominal muscle strain, told a news conference.
''I couldn't serve 100 per cent but I'm very glad to pull this off. But you also have to give credit to Schiavone, who was running well and returning almost everything. She played very well, better than I expected of her.'' The Russian said she had a personal point to prove by leading her team to victory.
SECOND TITLE ''It was my second Fed Cup final and, although we won in 2004, it was Anastasia Myskina who won it for Russia as I lost both of my matches,'' she said.
''This time, I was our number one player, I knew my team was counting on me, I was very motivated to win and I'm glad I came through in the end. This is a much more satisfying victory for me than in 2004.'' Kuznetsova, however, looked frustrated early in the match.
She changed her shoelaces after losing her serve in the second game, then went for a spare racket after being broken for the third time in the set to trail 3-5.
The pattern continued in the second set. After breaking the 25th-ranked Italian in the first game, the U.S. Open finalist lost serve twice in a row to fall behind 1-3.
Schiavone served for the match at 5-4 but Kuznetsova, cheered on by injured world number four Maria Sharapova, broke back to force the tiebreaker, where she saved two match points to take the contest into a deciding set.
It was then Kuznetsova's turn to serve for the match at 5-4 after breaking her opponent in the ninth game with the help of two net-cords.
Schiavone, the heroine of Italy's 3-2 semi-final victory over France in July when she won all three of her matches, battled back to level at 5-5.
Kuznetsova got another break in the next game, then came back from 0-30 to win the last four points in the match.
Despite the defeat, Schiavone was satisfied with her effort.
''I tried, I gave everything I had but just couldn't pull it through in the end,'' she said.
REUTERS BJR RN1020