OSTRAVA, Czech Republic (AP) — Defending champion Czech Republic took a commanding 2-0 lead over France in the Fed Cup World Group semifinals after Lucie Safarova and Petra Kvitova won the opening singles matches on Saturday.
Safarova saved five match points before beating Caroline Garcia 4-6, 7-6 (1), 6-1 and Kvitova returned from almost a two-month break to defeat Kristina Mladenovic 6-3, 6-4.
The hosts are one win away from the final against Germany or Russia in November to have a chance of winning their fourth title in five years. France is playing in its first semis since 2007.
The reverse singles and doubles are planned for Sunday.
Fourth-ranked Czech Petra Kvitova, who last played on Feb. 26 in Doha, Qatar before taking a rest, broke Mladenovic to go 5-4 up in the second set before serving out the match on the second match point after Mladenovic’s return sailed long.
“I didn’t know what to expect from myself,” Kvitova said. “I’m glad we lead 2-0 and that’s what matters.”
Kvitova struggled with serve, her major weapon, but the 58th-ranked Mladenovic was not able to exploit that.
The Czech put in only 52 percent of her first serve and committed seven double faults.
Earlier, the 13th-ranked Safarova converted her first match point with the 29th-ranked Garcia unable to return her serve on a fast indoor hardcourt at CEZ Arena.
“A wild match, isn’t it?” Safarova said. “I’m really happy I managed to come back.”
After winning the opening set, Garcia wasted five match points in the 10th game, allowing Safarova to stage a comeback after the Czech dominated the tiebreaker 7-1.
“Of course, I was nervous,” Safarova said about the match points. “But I served well and got her under pressure. In tennis, you can always come back until the final point is over. I did all I could. My experience played a role.”
In the final set, Safarova, who was under pressure from big hitting Garcia in the first two sets, jumped to a decisive 5-0 lead with her first two breaks.
The 21-year-old Garcia hit 34 winners to Safarova’s 23 and broke the Czech in the 10th game with a forehand winner to take the first set.
“She played aggressively and served well,” Safarova said.
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.