Last year's Fed Cup finalists took commanding 2-0 leads in their opening 2012 ties on Saturday, while a slew of WTA stars played elsewhere as this year's Fed Cup by BNP Paribas kicked off on courts around the world.
The Czech Republic has a particularly tough assignment this week with one of the strongest tennis nations at the moment, Germany, but both Petra Kvitova and Iveta Benesova emerged with hard-fought wins in the first two singles rubbers, Kvitova being two points from defeat serving 4-5, 0-30 in the third set but eventually edging Julia Goerges, 36 63 108, and Benesova coming from 62 43 down to beat Sabine Lisicki in another three-setter, 26 64 62.
"I can't say what I'm feeling right now, but it was a great match," Kvitova said. "It wasn't easy to finish the match on my serve. There wasn't that much between us today. I had a lot of chances and it was tough but I just tried not to give up."
"I've been waiting for this for a long time. I'm very happy I made it today," Benesova said. "Sabine and I both had a little bit of a shaky start, but you can expect that because these kinds of matches are very important for us."
There wasn't anything close about Russia's first two wins over Spain, as Maria Sharapova cruised past Sílvia Soler-Espinosa, 62 61 and Svetlana Kuznetsova did almost the same against Carla Suárez Navarro, 63 61.
"I felt a bit nervous having not played so well in Fed Cup last year," Sharapova said. "I really wanted to change that result. I really concentrated on my game, not really knowing much about my opponent. She gets a lot of balls back and this court isn't very fast, so it helped her game, so I just tried to stay steady."
"I wasn't feeling good the last few days, but when I went out there today I felt better and just played my game," Kuznetsova said. "It's hard. The hot from Australia, the cold here, the sleeping and the time change - you just want to relax and stay at home. But you just have to try your best even if you're not feeling your best, and today I played really well when it mattered."
The other World Group ties were tied 1-all after Day 1, with Jelena Jankovic and Yanina Wickmayer each notching victories as Serbia took on Belgium, and Sara Errani and Lesia Tsurenko both winning as Italy took on Ukraine. Tsurenko scored a surprise 61 62 win over Francesca Schiavone.
"Today I played almost perfectly and it's my best win," Tsurenko said. "I always knew if I worked hard, and for the next year, two years or even five years, I will beat top players. Today was the result of all of my work the last few years. My goal this year was to be Top 50. I will do everything to get there."
"Lesia played really good and consistent, but I didn't really push the ball and stay aggressive," Schiavone said. "It's not a good feeling, for sure, particularly for the team. When you don't get the point for the team you feel sad."
In World Group II matches the USA took a 2-0 lead on Belarus, Japan also took a 2-0 lead against Slovenia, Slovakia and France split the first two rubbers 1-1 and Australia and Switzerland did the same, splitting their first two 1-1.
Serena Williams took the court in the USA's tie with Belarus, staying even with Olga Govortsova through 5-all then completely running away with it, eventually sealing a 75 60 victory. "I played pretty tough. I didn't play well, but I was able to get through it," Williams said afterwards. "The second set was a combination of me relaxing and her making a few more errors."
Williams' Sunday opponent was undetermined, as Victoria Azarenka had to pull out of her first match due to a lower back injury. "I don't care who I play, when I play or where I play to be honest, as long as I play well," the 13-time Grand Slam champion said about her looming Belarusian opponent.
Among those taking the court in the Australia-Switzerland tie was Sam Stosur, who rallied from 4-2 down in the second set for a 62 75 win over Timea Bacsinszky, who was playing her first match since last March after missing more than 10 months of action due to foot and ankle injuries.
"For sure there are going to be some emotions for me this weekend. I've been waiting for this for such a long time," said Bacsinszky, a former Top 40 player. "I'm going to give 100% and more to bring back points for Switzerland."