Defending champions the Czech Republic stormed into the semifinals of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas on Sunday, while fellow former champions Russia and Italy and newcomers Serbia scored 3-2 victories to join them in the final four.
Petra Kvitova gave the Czechs an insurmountable 3-0 lead over Germany with a 67(2) 64 61 win against Sabine Lisicki, winning eight of the last nine games of the match after trailing a set and 4-all. The tie's final scoreline was 4-1.
"I had some trouble with my rhythm in the beginning, but I knew what I had to do and I started doing it in the middle of the second set," Kvitova said after the match. "I'm glad we have three points already. I'm not just playing by myself, I have a team here. I have always enjoyed playing Fed Cup for my country."
Waiting for the Czech Republic in the semifinals will be Italy, who closed out Ukraine, 3-2. With the two countries splitting the four singles rubbers, it all came down to the doubles, and that's when Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci stepped up, beating Olga Savchuk and Lesia Tsurenko, 75 06 61.
"When we won the first set everything was going well, but after the second set we were really nervous," Pennetta said. "In the beginning of the second set maybe we took some time off in our minds, but when it got to the third set we changed a lot - up and down, she crossed a lot, and everything was good."
"I was ready to be on the court for singles or doubles if something happened," the former doubles World No.1 said. "It wasn't easy but we just warmed up, got focused and tried to play our game. We played really well in the end."
Russia and Serbia also scored 3-2 victories, with Svetlana Kuznetsova actually clinching Russia's tie in the fourth singles match (rallying past Sílvia Soler-Espinosa, 62 46 63, to give them an insurmountable 3-1 lead) and Serbia clinching their win over Belgium in the doubles match (read more here).
The USA, Japan, Slovakia and Australia scored World Group II wins, with the USA's win over Belarus being of particular significance, given both Williams sisters took the court, Serena Williams notching two singles victories and Venus Williams partnering doubles World No.1 Liezel Huber to win the doubles rubber. Christina McHale also scored two singles wins for the USA.
"I wanted it so bad and I wanted Christina to have no pressure in her match so she could go out there and freely swing and do her thing," Williams said. "I've decided that's probably the worst match I've ever played in my whole career. And the first set was definitely the worst set. At one point I hit a forehand almost in the stands, and I almost walked off the court. I was thinking, 'Can they have a pinch-hitter? Because anyone right now is looking better than me.
"There's always a first time and that has to be the last time."
Huber and Venus Williams needed just 65 minutes to beat Yakimova and Darya Kustova in the doubles, 61 62. Williams was playing her first competitive match since the US Open after being sidelined the last five months with illness.
"It felt great. All of January I've been ramping up my training and trying to get back out here on the tour, so it felt good to play on the team," Williams said afterwards. "I didn't want to push too much - I wanted to keep it concise and go for the win. I just tried to play within myself and get some experience."
Williams was thrilled to play with Huber. "Liezel's really an expert doubles player. I've played against her many times, and every time Serena and I played her we never gave her an inch because we know she can take over. I just feel comfortable playing with her - she has the same attitude as Serena and I, who believe we can achieve anything no matter what the circumstances."
"I'd never played with Venus, but I'd lost plenty against Venus!" Huber said. "It has been fun. It has been an honor. I didn't think I'd have a chance to play this week because Venus and Serena are an awesome team and maybe if it came down to the wire, they had played together before and we had not. But we had a good week of practice - Venus was very eager to practice doubles this week, and when we got out there today she showed she was very comfortable."