Paris: Petra Kvitova led the Czech Republic into a 10th successive Fed Cup semi-final on Sunday as Serena Williams made her long-awaited comeback to tennis on Sunday alongside elder sister Venus.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova, playing in her first Fed Cup tie since she was attacked by a knife-wielding burglar at her home in December 2016, eased past Belinda Bencic 6-2, 6-4 to give the Czechs an unassailable 3-0 lead over Switzerland in Prague.
Kvitova, 27, had already won her opening singles on Saturday, beating Viktorija Golubic 6-2, 1-6, 6-3.
"I'm very happy, I was very calm, relaxed throughout the match. I played a great match, I didn't lose my serve once," said Kvitova who announced her return to form with the St Petersburg WTA title last weekend.
The Czechs, who have won the Fed Cup 10 times, will travel to Germany for the semi-finals in April.
Germany downed 2017 runners-up Belarus in Minsk 3-2 after Tatjana Maria and Anna-Lena Groenefeld won a tight deciding doubles against Aryna Sabalenka and Lidziya Marozava 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-4.
Earlier, Maria downed Vera Lapko 6-4, 5-7, 6-0 and Sabalenka beat Antonia Lottner 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 to make the score 2-2.
Czech captain Petr Pala expects Germany to call up former world number one and two-time major winner Angelique Kerber as well as Julia Georges -- both top 10 players -- for the semi-final.
"They have a strong calibre, because Angie (Kerber) has been playing excellent tennis this year and (Julia) Goerges played great in the second half of last year and she started well this year too," said Pala.
"The German team is terribly strong, so we need a strong team too to play against them, but with the team we have here, we can beat anyone.”
In La Roche sur Yon, France made the semi-finals for the third time in four years when Kristina Mladenovic won her third point of the weekend by teaming with world number 228 Amandine Hesse to beat Kirsten Flipkens and Elise Mertens 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 in the deciding doubles.
French number one Mladenovic had earlier seen off Australian Open semi-finalist Mertens 6-4, 6-4 before Alison Van Uytvanck eased past Pauline Parmentier 6-1, 6-3 to pull the hosts level.
Serena loses in return but says 'on the right track'
Later on Sunday, Serena played her first competitive match since winning her 23rd Grand Slam title at the 2017 Australian Open.
The 36-year-old American took time away from the sport to give birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia and get married, to Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian.
Both were in attendance over the weekend, seated just behind the players' box.
Team captain Kathy Rinaldi confirmed Serena's participation after sister Venus won her singles match against Richel Hogenkamp earlier to seal victory for the United States, 3-0.
"Serena's gonna be joining her sister Venus!" she announced, to roars of approval before the superstar appeared dressed in a white top, dark blue shorts topped off with a red headband.
Serena was understandably far from her best in her return to competition but walked away feeling upbeat.
Serena showed glimpses of both her prowess and rust during the 6-2. 6-3 loss to Demi Schuurs and Lesley Kerkhove.
“I didn’t know what to expect. Maybe that’s why I felt like I did better. I didn’t expect to ...have that much power on my serves, even though they didn’t go in,” said Williams.
“It’s just a start. I feel like that’s a very good step in the right direction.”
Despite the loss, it was a positive step for Serena, who was bedridden for six weeks from a series of complications, including a pulmonary embolism that led to multiple surgeries, after her daughter was delivered by emergency cesarean section.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Feb 12, 2018 12:25 PM