The Czech Republic claimed their second Fed Cup in succession as they prevailed in a five tie stunner over Russia in Prague. Down 2-1 on the final day, they were able to fight back as Barbora Strycova and Karolina Pliskova sealed the title with victory in a tense deciding rubber.
Kvitova and Sharapova delight on day one
For a while on Saturday it looked as if the unthinkable may happen as Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova played her way into a one set lead over Petra Kvitova in the opening tie and looked like causing an upset. A nervy Kvitova struggled to get going as Pavlyuchenkova produced a stunning set of tennis to silence the Czech crowd.
However, her hopes of causing an upset were dashed almost immediately as they had began to burn, as she crumbled under the revitalised Kvitova in sets two and three. The surprise pick over Ekaterina Makarova completely outplayed in Kvitova's 2-6 6-1 6-1 win which really set the tone for a stunning weekend of tennis.
It was universally expected that Petra Kvitova, who hadn't lost in the Fed Cup since 2013, would take one of the two singles places for the Czech Republic, but even as late as Friday it was still anyone's guess who would fill the second of Russia's two spots.
And the Russian captain, Anastasia Myskina, sprung a surpise as she named Pavlyuchenkova over Makarova, which for a while looked like paying off.
In an electric first set of tennis, everything Pavlyuchenkova touched turned to gold as she continually outfought Kvitova in the rallying department, whilst commiting less unforced errors than her wild opponent. In taking the first set, she stunned the whole nation into silence, but seemingly Kvitova into action, who came out a different player in sets two and three.
Using everything in her game to eventually break down the now teetering game of the Russian, who looked more and more lost. Crusing to the next two sets to the loss of only two games, Kvitova yelled in delight as she had achieved what she needed to.
Next up, Karolina Pliskova, again a surprise pick over Lucie Safarova who would play no part in the weekend, and Maria Sharapova produced an entertaining two sets of tennis. The power of both players was evident throughout, as was their mental fragility, but in the end, Sharapova cruised to a 6-3 6-4 win and suddenly the tie was level.
Sharapova and Kvitova play out a classic
This set us up deliciously for day two, where the two top players would be first to face one another in what would turn out to be the best match of the weekend - and perhaps even of the year.
Like in the first match of the weekend, it all started so differently as to how it would finish, as Petra Kvitova, backed by a loud crowd in Prague, dominated the first set from the off. Meeting every ball with percision and pace, she simply had too much for a dazed Sharapova, who was struggling to keep pace. With two breaks of serve, Kvitova sealed the set and looked by the far the more likelier of the two to win.
And perhaps she would have gone on to win with ease had it not been for the stunning resiliance of Sharapova in the second game of the second set. Down 0-1 and facing break points to the runaway Czech, she somehow rescued the game and halted the Czech train.
This would prove crucial and the turning point for the whole tie, as Sharapova finally found herself up to the levels of Kvitova, and very soon Kvitova would be facing her own do or die game. Lasting over ten minutes and bouncing between advantage and deuce, some of the tennis was outstanding, including an on the run forehand from Kvitova which somehow found its way in.
However, she could only stop Sharapova for so long, and very soon found herself again trying to rescue her own service game from break points. Despite leading 40-15, two double faults gifted an opportunity for Sharapova who then pounced on a nervy second serve at break point to fire an unreturnable ball at the feet of the Czech.
A masterclass in serving out a set later, and soon the tie was on level terms and impossible to predict.
But it would be Sharapova who would do all of the early running in the third and deciding set, as she forced Kvitova against the ropes with some heavy hitting, looking especially dangerous against the second serve of the Czech.
She would hold out for several games, but eventually Sharapova broke down the defences of Kvitova, breaking to 15 to nudge ahead in the tie before breaking again for a 5-2 lead, with the crowd silent.
And the tie would be her's in the very next game, again as she served out to love and immediately embraced Myskina after the match. It had been a tight, fluid affair and perhaps Sharapova's best performance of the season, and the tie was now in the hands of the Russians.
However, again with Pavlyuchenkova surprisingly playing over Makarova which raised questions about the possibilty that latter may be injured, the Czechs easily levelled the tie as Karolina Pliskova outlcassed her opponent in a straight sets win.
Fittingly, the stunning 2015 Fed Cup final would be going down to the final deciding rubber.
Czechs win stunning final rubber to clinch a consecutive title
So it would all come down to this; ten months of elite international tennis would be decided in the last match of the year with the final finely poised at 2-2.
Heading into it, both coaches made surprise swaps, with Lucie Safarova dumped for the confident Pliskova, whilst Elena Vesnina would now be joined by Pavlyuchenkova for her third match in two days.
Whilst never reaching the heights of the Kvitova and Sharapova match, it would be full of drama and enough twists and turns to fill the whole WTA season, with both teams producing moments of spellbinding tennis.
It was proving impossible to watch without awe, as both teams traded breaks early on in the first set, with Pliskova and Vesnina the standout players.
However it would be the Russian who would make all the difference in the business end of the set, as she began to prove just too clever and skillful at the net for the Czechs, hauling the Russians to a break up before securing the first set almost on her own.
Their delight would be short lived, as the Czechs broke early and easily in the second set and suddenly looked the likelier of the two.
With Vesnina now faltering and Pavlychenkova offering little, the Russians simply had no answer for the Czechs as Strycova inspired them to the second set.
For Vesnina, there now threatened the very serious chance of deja vu, as she was also on the losing side in the deciding rubber back in 2011 and hopes of avoiding this took a serious blow as she dropped her serve in the first game of the third set.
With the crowd in full voice and every point won being greeted by vocal cheers from Pliskova and Strycova, it looked like there was only one winner in the tie, and as they held their next few games comfortably one could be forgiven for already emblazing their name on the trophy.
The Russians would have a serious chance at 3-2 to break back as they forced several break point opportunites in succession, however, these would all go to waste as Vesnina and Pavlyuchenkova continually produced their worst tennis when it mattered most.
And as the Czechs held, it looked like that was that. A break in the next game for 5-2 effectively sealed the tie before Strycova held her nerve to serve out the tie as Pavlyuchenkova plunged the ball into the net.
The wild celebrations from the Czechs said all that had to be said as the whole team embraced in the middle of the court. Russia, meanwhile, looked distraught having come so close.
It was a truly incredible weekend of tennis and an amazing advert for the WTA, but in the end, the number one team proved they were just that.