Shaughnessy digs deep to put US in command

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The Independent Online

Meghann Shaughnessy put the United States in a strong position in their Federation Cup semi-final against Belgium in Moscow yesterday, but only after coming out on top in a titanic three-hour battle with Kirsten Flipkens that reduced the 17-year-old to tears at the end.

Shaughnessy's victory gave the US a 2-0 lead after Lisa Raymond had trounced Els Callens 6-2, 6-1, in the opening match. However, the world No 17 was taken to the brink by Flipkens, the world's top-ranked junior at 17, before winning 6-7, 7-6, 9-7.

The American reached set-point at 6-5 in the first, but sent a forehand long, and soon found herself down 6-1 in the tie-breaker, eventually losing it 7-4.

Shaughnessy, seven years older, opened the second set with a break, but Flipkens broke back to tie the set at 4-4. In another tie-break, Shaughnessy quickly took a 2-0 lead before Flipkens tied it 2-2 and eventually went ahead 7-6, but the American survived match point and went on to win it 10-8 with an ace.

A weary-looking Flipkens took two lengthy breaks early in the third set to have her legs massaged, but she went ahead 4-3 when Shaughnessy sent a shot long following four deuces after recovering from 15-40 with two aces.

Shaughnessy broke back to even the match at 5-5, and send it into a harrowing series of service wins before Flipkens netted a backhand at 30-40 on her serve in the 16th game.

As a distraught Flipkens was consoled by team-mates, the US captain, Billie Jean King, was full of admiration for Shaughnessy's display. "Sometimes you have to win ugly," King said. "She found a way with her heart and her guts to win that match."

In contrast to Shaughnessy's three hours 12 minutes epic, Raymond wrapped up her match against Callens in just 50 minutes, the doubles specialist overwhelming the Belgian, who is ranked No 74 in the world. "I don't think I could have asked more of myself or I could have played any better," said Raymond.

The Americans, who have won the Federation Cup a record 17 times, need one further victory to clinch a place in the final. Belgium's cause is hardly helped by the fact that Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters, the top two players in the world, pulled out when the the International Tennis Federation chose to play the finals in the Russian capital instead of at a Belgian venue.

In the other semi-final, Amelie Mauresmo brushed aside Vera Zvonareva 6-2, 6-2 to give France a 1-0 lead over Russia, only for Anastasia Myskina to level matters by beating Mary Pierce 4-6, 7-6, 7-5.

Mauresmo took charge from the start, breaking her less experienced opponent in the first game of the match. The 19-year-old Russian briefly rallied to level at 2-2 but Mauresmo's consistency from the baseline paid off as she won the next four games to take the first set.

The second set followed exactly the same pattern, with Mauresmo claiming the last four games from 2-2 to clinch victory in just 60 minutes. "I was very consistent from the beginning to the end," Mauresmo, the world No 4, said. "I also didn't let her do what she likes best... to dictate the points. I think this was one of my best matches in the entire season."