Paris - Russia and Italy, who have won
eight of the last 12 Fed Cup titles, crashed out of this year's tournament
Sunday while defending champions Czech Republic survived to set-up a semi-final
duel with Switzerland.
Russia, the champions in 2004, 2005, 2007
and 2008, suffered an embarrassing 3-1 defeat to the Netherlands in Moscow.
Italy, who were title winners in 2006,
2009, 2010 and 2013, were also dumped out in the first round, going down 4-1 to
France in Marseille.
But Switzerland, who have never won the Fed
Cup, made the semi-finals for the first time in 18 years with a thrilling 3-2
win over Germany in Leipzig thanks to Belinda Bencic and Martina Hingis
clinching the decisive doubles.
While the Netherlands and 2003 champions
France meet in one semi-final in April, the Swiss will tackle the Czechs, who
edged out Romania 3-2, in the other.
The Dutch, without a single player in the
top 100, made the semi-finals for the first time since 1997 after Kiki Bertens
defeated two-time Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1, 6-4.
Kuznetsova, the world 17, had lost a
four-hour marathon against Richel Hogenkamp on Saturday in the longest singles
match ever played at a Fed Cup.
The 24-year-old Bertens, ranked at 106,
took her Fed Cup singles record to 13 wins and one loss after the Dutch, 2-0 up
overnight, claimed a famous win against a Russian team who had Maria Sharapova
warming the bench all weekend.
Russia captain Anastasia Myskina said she
wasn't tempted to risk Sharapova, who won both singles rubbers in the country's
2015 final loss to the Czech Republic.
"No, she had a problem with her left
arm and that wasn't good. We decided on Thursday that she wouldn't play,"
In Leipzig, 18-year-old Bencic won her
third point of the weekend when she teamed up with 35-year-old Hingis to beat
Germany's Andrea Petkovic and Anna-Lena Groenefeld 6-3, 6-2.
Standing 1-1 overnight, Bencic downed
Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber 7-6 (7/4), 6-3 before Annika Beck
celebrated her maiden singles appearance by seeing off Timea Bacsinszky 7-5,
6-4 to make the tie 2-2.
"I was cheering them on for the first
four matches and then I had to go out there," said Hingis, who returned to
the Fed Cup last year for the first time since 1998 in an attempt to play in
the Rio Olympics.
Bencic praised Hingis who captured the
Australian Open women's title with Sania Mirza in Melbourne last weekend.
"She did all the great volleys and all
the doubles stuff. I was just happy I could play with her," said Bencic,
the world number 11 in singles.
The Czech Republic, recent champions in
2011, 2012, 2014 and 2015, were taken to a deciding doubles in Cluj by Romania
before Karolina Pliskova and Barbora Strycova saw off Andreea Mitu and Raluca
Olaru 6-2, 6-3.
Simona Halep put Romania 2-1 up earlier
Sunday after battling past two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 6-4, 3-6,
6-3 before the impressive Pliskova levelled the tie with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win
over Monica Niculescu.
Earlier, Kristina Mladenovic saw off Sara
Errani 7-6 (7/4), 6-1 to put the French 2-1 ahead after the two nations had
split the opening singles on Saturday.
In World Group II, where the winners face
the Group I losers in April for places in the elite section in 2017, Venus
Williams guided the United States to an unassailable 3-0 lead over Poland in
Williams, who played in her country's
title-winning team in 1999, defeated Magda Linette 6-1, 6-2 for the crucial
Australia beat Slovakia 3-2 in Bratislava,
Spain swept Serbia 4-0 in Kraljevo while Belarus saw off Canada 3-2 in Quebec