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Sloane Stephens of the US reacts during her singles match against Pauline Parmentier of France for the Fed Cup World Group semi final tie between France and the USA, in Aix-en-Provence, southern France, 21 April 2018. EPA-EFE/GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO



Czechs charges to 2-0 lead over Germany while US and France locked at one rubber each


A highly-anticipated, intriguing first day of Fed Cup semifinal action did not disappoint with two blockbuster ties delivering high quality tennis across the board.


With spots in the November final on the line, Fed Cup stalwarts the Czech Republic, winners in five of the last seven years, put up their top squad, with their powerful tennis crushing the hosts Germany to race out to a 2-0 lead. Meanwhile in France, the defending champions from the US were tied after a day of play, splitting the opening two singles rubbers.


In the blockbuster semifinal matchup of the weekend, the Czech’s dynamic duo of Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova utilized their power games perfectly to charge past the top German women of Julia Goerges and Angelique Kerber, respectively.


Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, used the indoor conditions of the Porsche Arena in Stuttgart, where coincidentally she will face Kerber in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix first round next week, to her total advantage, dominating one of 2018’s hottest players so far to give the visiting Czechs the easy point 6-3, 6-2 after just an hour on court.


“I put the pressure on her by making sure I was putting the return in. She started to miss a lot, but I didn’t give her any time for [her] good shots,” explained Kvitova, who also has two titles to her name this season.


“I didn’t panic. She started to miss her serve more and made a few double faults.”


The second rubber saw a slightly tougher affair in a re-match of the 2016 US Open final between Pliskova and Kerber. Playing on the home red clay courts that saw the German lift two trophies in 2015 and 2016, Kerber was unable to find that perfect blend of defense and offense to fend off her opponent’s powerful groundstrokes.


The sixth-ranked Czech employed her signature weapon at it’s crushing best, blasting 15 aces under the roof of the Porsche Arena to leave Kerber hapless and searching for answers.


“It was one of the best matches I played this year with my serve. A lot of aces and points on my first serve,” commented Pliskova.


“It’s important against a player like Angie who doesn’t give you a lot of free points. I think it would have been much harder without the serve.”


However, Pliskova’s 17 winners were the difference maker in the 7-5, 6-3 victory, giving the Czech’s the decisive 2-0 lead after a day’s play in Stuttgart.


“I didn’t expect this at all, I was only hoping for it. I believed it could happen, but it is still a long way,” said Czech captain Petr Pala.


“The German team is strong. We can’t be flying somewhere in the clouds [Sunday].”


For the defending champions the U.S, it was a tougher battle against 2016 runner-ups France, on the road on the indoor clay of the French coast. In the first rubber, recently-crowned Miami champion Sloane Stephens, now in the top 10, continued her solid form, grinding down Pauline Parmentier 7-6, 7-5 to give the Americans a crucial point.


The hard-fought matchup between the host’s Kristina Mladenovic and Coco Vandeweghe delivered, with the Frenchwoman coming back valiantly from a set down to level the tie with a strong 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory, bringing the total to one rubber apiece going into day two in Aix-en -Provence.


On the final day of Fed Cup semifinal action it will be Goerges and Pliskova kicking things off in Stuttgart while Mladenovic and Stephens will go head-to-head before Parmentier and Vandeweghe take the court.

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