PRAGUE (Reuters) - Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova put the Czech Republic on the brink of the Fed Cup title with victories on the opening day of the final against Germany on Saturday.
The hosts roared into a 2-0 lead, leaving them requiring just one more victory on Sunday to seal their country’s third victory in the Fed Cup, the premier team tournament in women’s tennis, in the last four seasons.
Playing in front of a capacity 13,000 crowd at the O2 Arena in Prague, the home favorites were given a flying start when inspired Wimbledon champion Kvitova, who led the Czechs to the title in 2011 and 2012, defeated Andrea Petkovic 6-2 6-4.
Safarova then downed Angelique Kerber 6-4 6-4, prevailing after a see-saw match against the Germany’s top-ranked player. It left Germany facing an uphill task to win the Cup for the first time since Steffi Graf led them to the 1992 title.
“I couldn’t ask for more than to be leading after the first day. They won in straight sets, which is excellent,” Czech captain Petr Pala said. “But we have to be ready again for tomorrow.”
Kvitova, a winner of three titles in 2014 including a second Wimbledon crown, set the tone swiftly, gaining an early break against Petkovic and taking the first three games en route to winning the opening set.
Petkovic, though, showed fight, breaking Kvitova at the start of the second set before surrendering the advantage in the next game.
Causing Kvitova problems throughout the set, Petkovic leveled the score at 3-3 but the Czech hit a pair of deft drop shots to keep herself ahead.
“(Kvitova) was playing amazingly well. I wasn’t playing badly, she was just so much better,” Petkovic said. “The main difference was she served better and returned better. She put a lot of pressure on my serve.”
A double fault from Petkovic set up match point for Kvitova, who quickly closed out the match.
Kvitova and Safarova both said they battled nerves as they went into their first finals matches on home soil since the Czechs won the trophy in 2012.
“It is a privilege to play at home but also pressure,” Safarova said. “I‘m happy that Petra and I were the stronger ones on the court today.”
Safarova subdued Kerber on her third match point with a forehand passing shot to seal her third break of the set after the German had squandered leads of 2-0 and 4-2.
With the reverse singles and doubles matches scheduled for Sunday, Kvitova has the first opportunity to seal a Czech victory when she takes on Kerber.
Editing by Ed Osmond