PARIS: Petra Kvitova led the Czech Republic into a 10th successive Fed Cup semi-final on Sunday as Serena Williams was poised to make her long-awaited return to the sport she has dominated.
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), 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.
Later on Sunday, Serena Williams is expected to play her first competitive match since winning her 23rd Grand Slam title at the 2017 Australian Open when she features in doubles for defending champions United States against the Netherlands.
Williams took a year out to give birth to daughter Alexis Olympia and is expected to play alongside Lauren Davis in the doubles of the tie being played in Asheville, North Carolina.
The US led 2-0 overnight after Venus Williams brushed aside 124th-ranked Arantxa Rus 6-1, 6-4 and CoCo Vandeweghe battled past Richel Hogenkamp 4-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-3.
Venus´ win came in her 1,000th career match and her 22nd singles appearance in a tournament she first played in 1999.
The eventual winners of that tie will tackle France for a place in the final.