Storm Sanders has continued her extraordinary run of form at the Billie Jean King Cup to help Australia book a spot in the final of the team's tournament, courtesy of a nail-biting semi-final victory over Britain.
Saturday's memorable triumph in Glasgow set up the prospect of a first title in the competition for Australia in 48 years since Evonne Goolagong led the victors, with Sanders again the lynchpin for the Green and Gold.
Sanders downed England's Heather Watson in her singles rubber, before returning to partner Aussie veteran Sam Stosur in the winner-takes-all doubles decider, following Ajla Tomljanovic's defeat in the second singles match.
Sanders battled through a leg injury to beat Watson 6-4 7-6 (7-3) in the opening singles rubber, only for Tomljanovic to suffer a serious off-day in her loss to Harriet Dart.
The British player - ranked 65 places below Australia's top-ranked female star - beat Tomljanovic 7-6 (7-3) 6-2 to leave the tie on a knife's edge.
Sanders was again Australia's aggressive inspiration, defying her lowly world ranking of 237 as she outplayed world No.133 Watson despite feeling discomfited by a leg injury that required off-court physio treatment after the first set.
She then returned less than two hours later to partner Stosur in the doubles, where a tie-deciding super tie-break was needed at the Emirates Arena.
Sanders and Stosur kept their nerve admirably as the home crowd tried to lift British pair Olivia Nicholls and Alicia Barnett.
With the scores locked at 6-6 in the first-to-10 deciding super breaker, the Aussie pair were super-charged after the final changeover, cracking four winning volleys between them to finally edge to a 7-6 (7-1) 6-7 (5-7) [10-6] win that sealed a 2-1 semi-final triumph for Australia.
'I can't really talk right now, I'm shaking," an emotional Sanders said during her on-court interview after proving Australia's hero in the semi-final triumph.
— Billie Jean King Cup (@BJKCup) November 12, 2022
Despite being ranked No.237 in the world, Sanders has lifted in the women's team competition and admits the honour of representing her country has taken her game to new levels.
“I just go out and do my thing on the court, and I think in this format and representing Australia, rankings go out the window,” Sanders added.
“I thrive in this environment, having the team around us, not just on the court but the whole week before. Then obviously during my match, to be able to look at them and get the support and energy from them.
“I’m just trying to do my part for the team and coming up with the wins is just the cherry on top.”
The 28-year-old's remarkable moment left the tennis world in awe as fans took to social media to sing the praises of Sanders.
No Barty? No worries! This is an INCREDIBLE achievement and Storm Sanders has been an absolute star all week. https://t.co/FXJh9uE88V
— Dale Roberts (@ozdale) November 12, 2022
AUSTRALIA BACK INTO THE FINAL!
Sam Stosur and Storm Sanders (what a week she is having) beat Alicia Barnett and Olivia Nichols 7-6(1), 6-7(5), [10-6] and Australian beats Great Britain 2-1 to reach the Billie Jean King Cup final.
Await Switzerland or Czech Republic tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/kJus6jFKri
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) November 12, 2022
Australia are into the @BJKCup Final! Storm Sanders won the opening singles against Watson, before Ajla Tomljanovic lost to a determined Dart. Sanders and Stosur won a three setter doubles! https://t.co/Z229wdBkAC
— HER WAY (@HerwayMagazine) November 12, 2022
STORM SANDERS YOU ARE TOO GOOD!!!!!!!!!
Stormy SINGLE HANDEDLY carried Australia to the BJK Finals, not Ajla Tomljanovic, STORM SANDERS.
— Dani 🍬 (@danipickznt) November 12, 2022
An incredible week from Storm Sanders.
Team captain Alicia Molik ignored rankings to install Sanders as her No.2 singles player and she hasn’t lost a match against higher-ranked opposition, while also playing doubles. Might even have earned herself an #AusOpen singles WC
— Marc McGowan 🗣✍️👨🏻💻📰 (@ByMarcMcGowan) November 12, 2022
Australia have beaten Great Britain & are through to the Billie Jean King Cup final 🇦🇺
In a winner takes all clash, Storm Sanders & Sam Stosur beat Alicia Barnett & Olivia Nicholls 10-6 in a deciding tie-break 🎾#BILLIEJEANKINGCUP pic.twitter.com/dNOYcYIIPa
— GiveMeSportW (@GiveMeSportW) November 12, 2022
Outstanding from Australia in #BJKCupFinals. Storm Sanders take a bow. Looking forward to the final tomorrow.
— Simon Massey (@SimonJLMassey) November 12, 2022
Australia confident ahead of final against Switzerland
The victory left Australia's captain Alicia Molik full of belief that her team of battlers are now ready to be crowned world champions when they play Switzerland in Sunday's final in Glasgow.
"It's ours for the taking. Today, Australia really showed our fighting spirit. We are going to bring it tomorrow too. It's exciting," Molik enthused afterwards.
Three years ago, Molik led the team that lost agonisingly in the final to France in Perth.
But this time she's convinced her side can beat the odds even though they'll be underdogs against the Swiss, for whom Olympic champion Belinda Bencic beat Karolina Pliskova in straight sets to seal a 2-0 win over 11-time champions Czech Republic.
"We've got the team, I believe, to get through tomorrow. We're still making up for the final we lost in 2019," said Molik, whose side were beaten by the Swiss in last year's semis.
Stosur - 19 years since she first played in the event then known as the Federation Cup - was again a rock for her inspired partner as Sanders won her fifth rubber of the week.
It was the 39th BJK Cup win of 38-year-old Stosur's distinguished career -and there has hardly been a more important one.
"I'd certainly rather be playing than watching," smiled the former US Open champion, who felt she might spend the week cheerleading on the bench after not having won a match since June.
Instead, she's now prevailed in two crucial matches with Sanders this week.
"I wanted to try and help the team in whatever way I could. If that's on the court, that's great; if it's cheering from the sideline, then that's okay too."
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