Photo: Daniel MaurerLucie Safarova (CZE)
Czech Republic twice-battled back from a losing position to defeat Spain in a tense deciding doubles and secure its spot in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group semifinals on Monday after rain had extended play to a third day in Seville.
Andrea Hlavackova and Barbora Zahlavova sent the Czechs through to a sixth consecutive semifinal in the elite tier of the competition after fighting to a 76(7) 63 triumph over Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro and Silvia Soler-Espinosa in fairly chilly and blustery, albeit sunny, weather.
Poor conditions in Seville this weekend meant that three of the four singles rubbers had to be played on Monday, with Klara Zakopalova and Lucie Safarova cancelling out two wins for Carla Suarez Navarro to force the concluding doubles.
Petr Pala’s Czech team, seven-time champions, go on to face reigning champion Italy in the last four on 19-20 April.
In another of the weekend’s engaging ties, France won a thriller at the Pierre Coubertin Stadium in Paris as Amelie Mauresmo's team took victory in the final doubles rubber of their World Group II tie against Switzerland thanks to Alize Cornet and Kristina Mladenovic.
The French duo defeated Belinda Bencic and Timea Bacsinszky 75 64 to pick up the key third point in a thrilling finish that preceded a party atmosphere in Paris.
The tie was finely poised after the opening day saw victories for Virginie Razzano and 16-year-old Bencic, but after Cornet had beaten Bacsinszky in the opening rubber on day two the hosts looked destined to take the spoils.
Teenager Bencic had other ideas, proving ruthless in a 61 61 victory over Razzano to put the visitors level for a second time and showing why she is so highly rated as a future star.
Seemingly the key to Swiss hopes of an upset, Bencic was then drafted into the doubles team to play alongside Bacsinszky and the pair seemed on course to silence the boisterous French crowd as they took a break early in the match. But their lead soon evaporated and the roof was almost taken off the arena as Cornet and Mladenovic stormed back to seal a place in the World Group play-offs for the first time since 2011.
In the other World Group II ties Poland and Sweden also went down to the wire as Agnieszka Radwanska won her singles before seeing Katarzyna Piter fail in a bid to end the tie against Sofia Arvidsson in the second reverse singles. Radwanska returned in the finale to pair with Alicija Rosolska against the Swedish top pairing of Arvidsson and Johanna Larsson in an impressive 62 62 victory.
Argentina and Canada both had easier routes to victory on Sunday. Having both been 2-0 ahead overnight they each scored their point in the first rubber of the day. Serbia and Japan were each able to restore some pride with success in the dead doubles rubber but will now join the other defeated nations, Switzerland and Sweden, in the World Group II play-offs in April.
The four Zone Group I nations with a shot at promotion for next year will be Thailand, Romania, Netherlands and Brazil after they all came out on top in their respective regional battles this week to earn a spot in the World Group II play-offs.
In the World Group, Australia wasted little time in knocking out Russia, with Germany next up for Captain Alicia Molik’s side. Italy left nothing to chance by progressing after winning the first three rubbers of their ties against USA.
The losers will face those nations who were victorious in World Group II in April's play-offs, to decide who will compete in next year’s elite tier of Fed Cup.
The play-off draws will take place in London on Tuesday 11 February to decide the ties to be played in April.
For a full report from each tie please follow the links below:
World Group first round
USA 1-3 Italy
Spain 1-0 Czech Republic
Slovak Republic 1-3 Germany
Australia 4-0 Russia
World Group II first round
Canada 3-1 Serbia
Sweden 2-3 Poland
France 3-2 Switzerland
Argentina 3-1 Japan