Photo: Martin SidorjakLucie Safarova (CZE)
Victories for Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber put Germany on the brink of its first appearance in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final since it last took the title in 1992.
Petkovic opened proceedings in Brisbane against Samantha Stosur and set the tone for the day with a comprehensive 61 76(7) victory. Having taken the first set comfortably the German No. 2 fell behind a break in the second before turning it around to put her side on the board on the fourth match point.
“I had put myself in a good position in the second set so it was disappointing to lose it,” said Stosur. “She was able to get a good strike on the ball. The court is quick and she was striking the ball well. I wasn’t overly nervous but she came out pretty clean and I should have been able to do that the way my opponent did.”
If Petkovic had been impressive in victory then Kerber made things look positively easy in her triumph over Casey Dellacqua, needing just 51 minutes to put Germany on the brink of progressing in a 61 60 scoreline.
“I saw two great matches and I was very proud of the performance of my two girls,” said German captain Barbara Rittner. “There are still three points to go and tomorrow is a new day. I think the matches were closer than they look.”
The world No. 9 will take to the court first on Sunday looking to put Germany over the line against Stosur. The pair have met each other twice before with the Australian having won on both occasion including during the last Fed Cup tie between the nations in 2012 on the clay courts of Stuttgart.
In the other semifinal home advantage is once again proving the difference maker between Italy and Czech Republic with the crowd in Ostrava being treated to two straightforward victories for Lucie Safarova and Petra Kvitova.
Safarova got the ball rolling for the hosts with a 64 61 victory in a match that lasted just over an hour and could have been over quicker had the umpire not needed to rebuke some of the supporters who got slightly too vociferous.
The world No. 26 was full of praise for the crowd after the encounter: “It was a great match and I played so well, especially in the second set," Safrova said. "The crowd is amazing and I love to play at home.”
It was then handed over to the Czech No. 1 who took on the potential surprise package of the weekend, Camila Giorgi, who had been preferred to both Roberta Vinci and Karin Knapp. The move didn’t pay off for Captain Corrado Barazzutti who now has a decision to make regarding who will feature in tomorrow’s reverse singles rubbers.
“I don’t feel very well, but we have to recognise that the Czech players played really well. They played a great match and it was a difficult match. I am disappointed. But my players never give up and we have another day tomorrow and we are ready,” Barazzutti said.
In the World Group play-offs there was a good day for Russia who strode to a 2-0 lead against Argentina thanks to solid victories for Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova against Paula Ormaechea and Maria Irigoyen respectively.
Local girl Vesnina, who had obtained tickets for a large number of friends and family for the tie, ended a run of five straight Fed Cup victories for the Argentine No. 1 which had seen her side to the verge of a return to the top tier of the competition for the first time since 2009.
"It was a very nervous start because I didn’t know Paula and we had never played against each other and it’s a Fed Cup match and I knew I needed to get the first point for my country," Vesnina said. "I just needed a few games to get used to the surface and her game. When you have one set under your belt and you are leading, it makes a big difference."
There was a closer affair in Spain where world No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska predictably put the visiting Polish side into the lead but Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor rallied the hosts in a comeback 46 60 61 victory against Urszula Radwanska. The elder Radwanksa sister takes to the court first again tomorrow and could well be called upon to return for the doubles rubber if necessary.
The World Group II play-offs saw Switzerland and Sweden both score upsets on the opening day to leave them a point away from maintaining their places in the second tier of the competition at the expense of Brazil and Thailand respectively.
Netherlands and Japan are tied after Saturday’s play in ‘s-Hertogenbosch with Kurumi Nara earning the lead for Japan with victory over Arantxa Rus in a back-and-forth encounter prior to Kiki Bertens levelling things with a 60 76(3) win against Misaki Doi.
In one of the most anticipated ties of the weekend Sorana Cirstea battled to overcome good friend Ana Ivanovic to give Serbia the edge going into the final day after the action was cut short due to rain.
The Romanian managed to wrap up victory as light drizzle began over Bucharest but just four games into the match of world No. 5 Simona Halep against Bojana Jovanovski the rain intensified to make the court unplayable for the rest of the day.
“It took me a bit of time to adjust to the unfamiliar situation of playing at home in front of so many fans. I was nervous in the opening set but I am really happy that I was able to get back into the match and put my country ahead in this tie,” said the world No. 27 after the match. “The fans were amazing and I really want to thank them for their incredible support.”
Play will now resume at 0700 GMT on Sunday to accommodate the unfinished rubber from today as well as both reverse singles and the decisive doubles rubber if necessary.
For a full report from each tie please follow the links below:
World Group semifinals
Czech Republic 2-0 Italy
Australia 0-2 Germany
World Group play-offs
Russia 2-0 Argentina
Canada 1-0 Slovak Republic
USA 0-1 France
Spain 1-1 Poland
World Group II play-offs
Romania 1-0 Serbia
Netherlands 1-1 Japan
Sweden 2-0 Thailand
Brazil 0-2 Switzerland