Australia’s Fed Cup semi-final against Belarus will be decided in a winner-takes-all doubles encounter, with Samantha Stosur missing a chance to seal it in Sunday afternoon’s second singles rubber after Ashleigh Barty gave Australia a 2-1 lead earlier on Sunday.
Barty’s comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 defeat of Aryna Sabalenka had edged the hosts ahead 2-1 in Brisbane before Stosur was dominated by former world No.1 Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 6-1.
Australia haven’t won the Fed Cup since 1974 and haven’t made a final since 1993, with Barty the key as she rides a 13-match unbeaten streak across singles and doubles in the teams event.
Stosur was retained ahead of the higher-ranked Daria Gavrilova by Australian captain Alicia Molik to play the reverse singles after a stoic effort against Sabalenka on Saturday.
But she was never in the hunt against the two-time Australian Open champion, who she had only beaten once in nine previous encounters.
Azarenka looked at home on a court on which she has twice lifted the Brisbane International trophy, sweating on Stosur’s faltering serve and producing winners from both sides.
Barty, who beat Azarenka on Saturday, proved too steady for the free-wheeling Sabalenka, grinding away on her opponent's serve until it eventually proved too much for the Belarusian.
Sabalenka's serving woes from Saturday returned, with six double faults among 16 unforced errors in the first set compared to Barty's seven.
Conversely, Barty served well in the clutch moments, fending off the early pressure and sealing the first set with an ace.
It was more of the same in the second set as Barty produced in the big moments to save four break points across her first two service games, including a one shot to end a rally that had her opponent applauding.
Sabalenka was the first to crack when she handed the 22-year-old Barty a break with a loose forehand and double fault for a 3-2 lead.
Barty didn't need another invitation and she broke Sabalenka again before she served out the match.
Australia's No.1 walked onto court with three-year-old niece Lucy in her arms to start the day and brought her into the post-game press conference.
With Lucy sitting next to her, Barty credited Stosur for exposing some cracks in Sabalenka's armour on Saturday.
"I was able to take advantage of it today, particularly on return games," she said.
"It was a wrestle, it was important to hang in there physically and continue to build pressure."