Kvitova leads Czechs into Fed Cup semi-finals, Serena poised for return

Fed Cup: Germany, Czech Republic and France reach the semi-final

Czech Republic's Petra Kvitova celebrates after defeating Belinda Bencic of Switzerland in their singles match of the Tennis Fed Cup World Group first round tie between the Czech Republic and Switzerland in Prague, Czech Republic, 11 February 2018.

Kvitova, who won the St. Petersburg Open in Russian Federation earlier this month, was a member of the Czech team that won five of the last seven Fed Cups. The U.S. goes to France, which defeated Belgium 3-2.

It was a memorable return to the Fed Cup for Kvitova after she was injured in a knife attack at her home in December 2016.

It was her 1,000th career match and her 22nd singles appearance in a tournament she first played in 1999, but Williams insisted milestones were far from her mind. She can clinch in the first reverse singles on Sunday against Bencic.

Kvitova, 27, had already won her opening singles on Saturday, beating Viktorija Golubic 6-2, 1-6, 6-3.

Earlier, Maria downed Vera Lapko 6-4, 5-7, 6-0 and Sabalenka beat Antonia Lottner 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 to make the score 2-2. But straight after that two-hour match, Sabalenka returned for the deciding doubles without regular partner Sasnovich. After nearly 2 and a half hours, Tatjana Maria and Anna-Lena Groenefeld toppled Aryna Sabalenka and Lidziya Morozova 6-7 7-5 6-4 to claim the deciding point for Germany who will now host the Czech Republic in the semi-final.

The Belarusians committed 69 unforced errors as the Germans edged them 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-4.

Cheered on by her younger sister Serena, who is poised to make her own comeback to the sport after a year away and the birth of her daughter, seven-time Grand Slam victor Venus made relatively light work of 124th-ranked Arantxa Rus, winning 6-1, 6-4.

"They have a strong calibre, because Angie (Kerber) has been playing excellent tennis this year and (Julia) Goerges played great in the second half of last year and she started well this year too", said Pala. 6-3 loss to Demi Schuurs and Lesley Kerkhove. Coco Vandeweghe also played a big part in the US' efforts as she had to overcome Hogenkamp in a tight three-setter to help the United States route the Dutch before a dead rubber doubles saw the return of Serena Williams to competitive action alongside sister Venus, ultimately falling to the Dutch team of Lesley Kerkhove and Demi Schuurs.

Later on Sunday, Serena played her first competitive match since winning her 23rd Grand Slam title at the 2017 Australian Open.

"Serena's gonna be joining her sister Venus!" she announced, to roars of approval before the superstar appeared dressed in a white top, dark blue shorts topped off with a red headband. "I didn't expect to.have that much power on my serves, even though they didn't go in", said Williams. "This is literally my first time traveling with the baby and everything". Maybe that's why I felt like I did better. "It was hard. It was the first time for me".

In the second singles, Vandeweghe rallied from a set down, winning the second in tense tie-breaker before finding her range against Richel Hogenkamp in a 4-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-3 victory.

Two-time champion France advanced with Amandine Hesse and Kristina Mladenovic winning 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 against Belgium's Elise Mertens and Kirsten Flipkens in the deciding doubles. This was the 28th win for Petra in Fed Cup singles rubbers, dominating with her first serve and saving both break points she faced to keep the pressure on Bencic.

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