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China join elite in Fed Cup semis

February 04, 2008 11:16 IST

China confirmed themselves as a new international tennis force on Sunday, reaching the Fed Cup semi-finals for the first time with a 3-2 victory over France in Beijing.

Former Wimbledon and Australian Open doubles champions Zheng Jie and Yan Zi beat France's Virginie Razzano and Nathalie Dechy 7-5, 7-6, after world number 32 Li Na and number 52 Peng Shuai had won their opening singles rubbers on Saturday.

"We have accomplished our goal," China captain Jiang Hongwei said, after the nail-biting doubles decider which followed a fightback from France in the reverse singles.

France were below strength after Amelie Mauresmo and Marion Bartoli opted out of the tie but, when world number 27 Razzano beat Li 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 and Dechy crushed Yan 6-3, 6-2, they looked to be re-establishing the old order.

Zheng, recently returned from injury, said she was pleased she and Li and been able to play a good doubles considering the pressure they were under. "I feel quite satisfied," she said.

China meet five-times champions Spain in the semi-finals of the women's team competition on April 26 after Anabel Medina Garrigues and Nuria Llagostera Vives gave the visitors an unassailable 3-0 lead over Italy in Naples.

Italy restored some pride with wins in the two dead rubbers but the experienced Francesca Schiavone, instrumental in Italy's 2006 title win and the run to last year's final, said she had simply made too many errors in Sunday's 6-4, 6-1 defeat by Medina Garrigues.

In Tel Aviv defending champions Russia completed a 4-1 victory over unfancied Israel, winning all three matches on Sunday and will meet the winners of the rain-interrupted tie between the 17-times champions United States and Germany.

Maria Sharapova, who lifted the Australian Open trophy eight days ago, crushed Shahar Peer 6-1, 6-1 and Anna Chakvetadze beat Tzipi Obziler 6-4, 6-2 on Sunday before the doubles pairing of Dinara Safina and Elena Vesnina saw off Peer and Obziler 6-0, 1-6, 6-4 in the dead doubles rubber.

On Saturday Peer, ranked 17th in the world, beat Safina 0-6, 6-2, 6-2 to earn Israel their sole victory and fifth-ranked Sharapova beat Obziler 6-0, 6-4 to level the tie.

The American tie looked likely to finish on Monday after persistent rain in southern California meant a finish was unlikely on Sunday.

The tie was deadlocked at 1-1 after Fed Cup debutant Ashley Harkleroad spared the blushes for the US by crushing Germany's Tatjana Malek 6-1, 6-3 in Saturday's second singles match.

German teenager Sabine Lisicki, also a rookie in the team competition, had stunned former world number one Lindsay Davenport 6-1, 7-5 in the opening encounter.

Davenport's defeat ended a run of 19 consecutive wins by the American in Fed Cup singles matches.

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