Slovakia and Italy take charge
Slovakia and Italy are on the brink of reaching the Fed Cup final after taking 2-0 leads on the opening day of their respective last four encounters.
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Dominika Cibulkova and Daniela Hantuchova put Slovakia in charge against Russia in Moscow, while Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci were rarely troubled as Italy cruised against defending champions the Czech Republic in Palermo.
Cibulkova battled back from a set down to see off Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, breaking in the seventh game of the decider to swing the tie in her favour before wrapping up a 5-7 6-1 6-4 triumph.
There was no such drama for Hantuchova, who overcame Maria Kirilenko 6-4 6-2 at the Sports Center Krylatskoye to put the Slovaks just one win away from their first Fed Cup final in 11 years.
"Even though I am the one on the court, we are playing as a team, and everyone on the bench is playing the match as well. We have an unbelievable captain (Matej Liptak), and it's just a pleasure to be playing," said Hantuchova.
On the clay of the Circolo del Tennis Palermo, Errani cruised to a 6-4 6-2 victory over Lucie Safarova, whose compatriot Petra Kvitova - the 2011 Wimbledon champion - slumped to a 6-4 6-1 defeat against Vinci.
"I hope I can cancel this match in my mind and have a free mind for tomorrow," Kvitova said. "I'm still getting better and it's obviously tough to be 100 per cent ready to play these girls on clay but we'll see."
- In the World Group play-offs, Serena Williams pulled USA level with Sweden in Delray Brach, Florida, after Sloane Stephens had lost to Sofia Arvidsson.
Arvidsson gave the Swedes the lead with a 6-4 4-6 6-1 victory but world number one Williams had few problems with Johanna Larsson, winning 6-2 6-2 in the evening after rain had delayed play.