The semi-finals of the 2014 Fed Cup got underway on Saturday as favorites such as Italy got off to a hot start and two rivals well-versed in head-to-head matchups clashed to surprising results.
Italy fended off the United States in the first round back in February, fully keeping alive the side's momentum after capturing the 2013 title. The Czech Republic were able to maneuver past Spain in Seville to create the heavyweight bout.
On the other end of the bracket, Germany cruised past Slovakia and Australia upended Russia in dominant fashion to set up a dance between familiar foes.
Here's a look at how Sunday's action unfolded. The winners would qualify to join the World Group.
Day 2 Results World Group I
Russia vs. Argentina at Adler Arena in Sochi, Russia
The day couldn't have been much easier for the Russians. Behind two wins from Ekaterina Makarova in singles action, the Argentines were no match.
Russia swept the meeting four matches to none.
Makarova took down both Paula Ormaechea and Maria Irigoyen in straight sets. The 25-year-old Russian admitted to some nerves before the weekend's matches got under way, but she was pleased with the outcome.
Per Prakash of Tennis World, Makarova said:
"It was a good weekend, but especially for me as I played two matches. I was number one in the team, so I felt a little bit nervous, but I am really happy we came through all of this."
With the sweep, Russia stays alive in the playoff bracket and qualify for the World Group. Here's a look at the results from this matchup.
- Round 1 - Elena Vesnina def. Paula Ormaechea (6-3, 6-3)
- Round 2 - Ekaterina Makarova def. Maria Irigoyen (7-5, 6-1)
- Round 3 - Ekaterina Makarova def. Paula Ormaechea (6-1, 6-2)
- Round 4 - Elena Vesnina vs. Maria Irigoyen (Not Played)
- Round 5 - Vesnina and Valeria Solovyeva def. Victoria Bosio and Nadia Podoroska (6-2, 6-1)
Canada vs. Slovakia at Laval University in Quebec, Canada
Young Canadian star Eugenie Bouchard got off to a slow start against Kristina Kucova, but she righted the ship to win two matches in a 3-0 sweep of Slovakia.
Bouchard's first match took two hours seven minutes to complete, but the Canadian outlasted her opponent on friendly soil.
Per The Canadian Press, Bouchard said:
""I didn’t play well today. I am proud the way I fought through it." Bouchard was down 0-3 to begin the first set before battling back to win. She was dropped in the second set, but seemed to have Kucova figured out in the final frame.
Sometimes the wins aren't pretty.
- Round 1 - Aleksandra Wozniak def. Jana Cepelova (4-6, 7-5, 7-5)
- Round 2 - Eugenie Bouchard def. Kristina Kucova (7-6 (0), 2-6, 6-1)
- Round 3 - Eugenie Bouchard def. Jana Cepelova (7-6 (6), 6-3)
USA vs. France at Saint Louis University in St. Louis, Mo.
Sloane Stephens dropped her first match of the weekend to Caroline Garcia in straight sets (3-6, 2-6). But she came back strong in her second match.
Stephens handed Virginie Razzano a 6-2, 6-4 loss to give the USA a 2-1 lead.
It wouldn't last. Garcia proved to be too much for Keys as well.
The rubber match would fall in the hands of the two country's doubles teams. Garcia and Razzano proved to be too strong for Stephens and Keys. The French dispatched the Americans in straight sets.
Without the Williams sisters, the United States simply isn't one of the strongest teams.
- Round 1 - Caroline Garcia def. Sloane Stephens (3-6, 2-6)
- Round 2 - Madison Keys def. Alize Cornet (6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 6-3
- Round 3 - Sloane Stephens def. Virginie Razzano (6-2, 6-4)
- Round 4 - Caroline Garcia def. Madison Keys (6-4, 6-3)
- Round 5 - Caroline Garcia and Virginie Razzano def. Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys (6-2, 7-5)
Spain vs. Poland at Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, Spain
No woman was more dominant than Agnieszka Radwanska in the playoff round. Literally, everything she touched turned into a win against the Spaniards.
Because it happened on the road—so to speak—it makes Radwanska's performance all the more amazing. Picking up her younger sister Urszula Radwanska's slack, Agnieszka knocked off Silvia Soler-Espinosa and Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor in straight sets.
Urszula lost her singles matched to both Spaniards leaving the meeting tied at two heading into the doubles match.
Agnieszka teamed with Alicja Rosolska to hand Soler-Espinosa and Anabel Medina Garrigues a 6-4, 6-2 victory and the berth in the World Group.
After a stunning performance, Radwanska kept it simple with this tweet:
- Round 1 - Agnieszka Radwanska def. Silvia Soler-Espinosa (6-2, 6-2)
- Round 2 - Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor def. Urszula Radwanska (4-6, 6-0, 6-1)
- Round 3 - Agnieszka Radwanska def. Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor (6-3, 6-2)
- Round 4 - Silvia Soler-Espinosa def. Urszula Radwanska (6-1, 6-3)
- Round 5 - A. Radwanska and Alicja Rosolska def. Anabel Medina Garrigues and Soler-Espinosa (6-4, 6-2)
Day 2 Results World Group II
Romania vs. Serbia at Arenele BNR in Bucharest, Romania
The Romanians defended their home court with a thorough 4-1 beating of the Serbians. Sorana Cirstea won both of her singles matches, including a 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 win over Ana Ivanovic in the first match.
She had to win another three-setter over Bojana Jovanovski (6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-3. Cirstea's performance was the most important of the weekend for the home country.
- Round 1 - Sorana Cirstea def. Ana Ivanovic (3-6, 6-1, 6-2)
- Round 2 - Simona Halep def. Bojana Jovanovski (6-2, 6-4)
- Round 3 - Ana Ivanovic def. Simona Halep (6-3, 7-6 (2))
- Round 4 - Sorana Cirstea def. Bojana Jovanovski (6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-3)
- Round 5 - Irina-Camelia Begu and Monica Niculescu def. Jovana Jaksic and Nina Stojanovic (1-0) Retired
Netherlands vs. Japan in the Netherlands
Despite underdog status against the Japanese, the Dutch showed great heart to take three-straight singles battles over the weekend.
Kiki Bertens knocked off Misaki Doi and Kurumi Nara. The battle with Nara was epic and could easily be seen as the turning point of the matchup.
Bertens won it 7-6 (5), 4-6, 9-7. Michiel de Hoog of Fedcup.com talked about the impediments Bertens ha to overcome against Nara.
"In the third set, Bertens had to overcome cramps in both legs and received off-court treatment from the team physiotherapist after she went up 5-4. Between points, Bertens kept moving to avoid the cramps getting to her legs."
It was a gutsy performance from Bertens that will only grow her popularity in her country.
- Round 1 - Kurmi Nara def. Aranxta Rus (7-5, 2-6, 6-1)
- Round 2 - Kiki Bertens def. Misaki Doi (6-0, 7-6 (3))
- Round 3 - Kiki Bertens def. Kurumi Nara (7-6 (5), 4-6, 9-7)
- Round 4 - Aranxta Rus def. Misaki Doi (7-5, 6-3)
- Round 5 - Shuko Aoyama and Risa Ozaki def. Richel Hogenkamp and Michaella Krajicek (1-6, 6-3, 10-8)
Sweden vs. Thailand at Sparbanken Lidkoping Arena in Lidkoping, Sweden
The Swedish women were never tested over the weekend. Every match of their 4-0 sweep of Thailand came in straight sets. Johanna Larsson won two matches and barely broke a sweat in the process.
Sweden moves into the World Group after the easiest weekend of the countries involved.
- Round 1 - Johanna Larsson def. Noppawan Lertcheewakarn (6-1, 6-3)
- Round 2 - Sofia Arvidsson def. Luksika Kumkhum (6-4, 6-2)
- Round 3 - Johanna Larsson def. Luksika Kumkhum (6-4, 6-2)
- Round 4 - Sofia Arvidsson vs. Noppawan Lertcheewakarn (not played)
- Round 5 - Hilda Melander and Rebecca Peterson def. Tamarine Tanasugarn and Varatchaya Wongteanchai (6-4, 6-2)
Brazil vs. Switzerland in Catanduva, Brazil
Behind Timea Bacsinszky, Switzerland pushed past Brazil 3-1 over the weekend. Bacsinszky beat Teliana Pereira and Paula Cristina Goncalves in straight sets.
Svenja Mastroberardi of Let's Talk Tennis thinks this could be a sign of things to come for Bacsinszky:
Bacsinszky's second win punched Switzerland's ticket into World Group II.
Brazil will now have to win in Americas Zone Group I in February to return to World Group II.
- Round 1 - Timea Bacsinszky def. Teliana Pereira (6-3, 6-3)
- Round 2 - Belinda Bencic def. Paula Cristina Goncalves (6-3, 6-3)
- Round 3 - Teliana Pereira def. Belinda Bencic (6-3, 6-4)
- Round 4 - Timea Bacsinszky def. Paula Cristina Goncalves (7-5, 6-2)
Day 1 Results
Australia vs. Germany
|R1||Samantha Stosur||1-6, 6-7 (7)||Andrea Petkovic|
|R2||Casey Dellacqua||1-6, 0-6||Angelique Kerber|
It was easy to think coming into Saturday's action that Australia would run away with the competition. After all, the Aussies do hold an 8-4 advantage over Germany in the head-to-head category, won the most recent matchup and blew past Russia 4-0 back in February.
So much for that.
Germany bucked all of the above via dominant performances from Andrea Petkovic and Angelique Kerber.
Petkovic moved past Sam Stosur despite allowing the Aussie to start with an ace. She had to break Stosur's serve several times and overcome a slight injury to her leg inflicted by her own racket, but she was consistently the better player.
As expected, the true star of the show in Brisbane was world No. 7 Kerber, who was simply unstoppable throughout the majority of the proceedings.
In fact, it was only until late in the match that Casey Dellacqua was able to find some breathing room, but by then it was too little, too late. Kerber says she was able to go into the matchup with some wiggle room because of the lead Petkovic had established, per Craig Gabriel of Fedcup.com:
"I played very good,” said Kerber. “Of course it is easier to go on the court when your country is leading 1-0 but I knew I had to play very good because Casey is playing very good at home … but it is a very good feeling to be up 2-0.”
Coach Barbara Rittner was surely pleased with the performances, but warned that the tie is far from over:
Which side advances?
"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."
Indeed. Kerber gets Stosur on Sunday and Petkovic takes on Dellacqua before doubles action that sees Julia Goerges and Anna-Lena Groenefeld take on Ashleigh Barty and Storm Sanders of Australia.
If Petkovic and Kerber keep their current form, it's going to be tough for the Aussies to grab a single point. The matches were ugly when one looks at the final scores, but Stosur and Dellacqua put up plenty of fight that suggests Day 2 will be more competitive.
Czech Republic vs. Italy
|R1||Lucie Safarova||6-4, 6-1||Sara Errani|
|R2||Petra Kvitova||6-4, 6-2||Roberta Vinci|
Here's another surprise from Saturday. Sort of.
Italy has been on a roll and dropped just a single set to the United States in singles action back in February, but came out sluggish against the Czech Republic, the team that had won it all in 2011 and 2012.
Both Lucie Safarova and Petra Kvitova won in straight-set matches that seemed rather simple.
Safarova got off to a hot start against Sara Errani and never looked back before making things official in one hour and 11 minutes.
Kvitova needed just a few more minutes than her teammate to easily handle Camila Giorgi, but in reality the match would have ended much faster had the power not cut out thanks to a brief patch of inclement weather.
She said after the fact much more was motivating her than just the home crowd, per Kirsten Webster of Fedcup.com:
Which side advances?
"It's pressure every time my parents come, he was my coach until I was 16 so for him it’s pretty tough and for me it is not easy. I am just really glad my serve was great today and I played a good match."
On Sunday she gets to dance with Errani while Safarova takes on Giorgi before doubles action sees the home crowd's Andrea Hlavackova and Klara Koukalova encounter Karin Knapp and Roberta Vinci.
Like Germany, it's hard to see the Czech Republic coming out flat and blowing away what is a rather large lead. Kvitova and Safarova are simply on fire at the moment and seem destined to advance.