Fed Cup: 10th straight SFs for Czechs; Serena returns for USThe Associated Press — By The Associated Press
The Czech Republic beat Switzerland 3-1 to advance to its 10th straight Fed Cup semifinals on Sunday, and Serena Williams played her first competitive match in more than a year as defending champion United States defeated the Netherlands 3-1.
The Czechs, Fed Cup champions in five of the last seven years, travel to Germany, which made its first semifinals since 2015 after beating 2017 finalist Belarus 3-2 in Minsk. The U.S. goes to France, which defeated Belgium 3-2.
Dual Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova beat Switzerland's Belinda Bencic 6-2, 6-4 in the first reverse singles to give the Czechs an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the first-round match in Prague.
The second reverse singles was not played but Switzerland's Timea Bacsinszky and Jil Teichmann defeated Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova 1-6, 6-4, 10-8 in the doubles.
The Germans last met the Czechs in the 2014 final, losing 3-1.
Germany met Belarus for the first time without its three leading singles players. But Tatjana Maria won the first reverse singles for Germany against Vera Lapko 6-4, 5-7, 6-0 for a 2-1 lead. The 19-year-old Lapko made her Fed Cup debut in place of team No. 1 Aliaksandra Sasnovich, who lost her singles on Saturday.
Aryna Sabalenka then tied the match 2-2 by beating German newcomer Antonia Lottner 6-3, 5-7, 6-2. But straight after that two-hour match, Sabalenka returned for the deciding doubles without regular partner Sasnovich.
Sabalenka combined with Lidziya Marozava for the first time, and they faced Maria and Anna-Lena Groenefeld, who hadn't played Fed Cup doubles since 2011 but had a 3-2 record.
The Belarusians committed 69 unforced errors as the Germans edged them 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-4.
In Asheville, North Carolina, Serena Williams lined up alongside her sister Venus Williams in a doubles match.
Serena Williams had said her return to tennis would represent the "start of a long process." She and Venus lost 6-2, 6-3 to Lesley Kerkhove and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands.
The U.S. already had clinched victory thanks to a pair of singles victories by Venus Williams and have an April 21-22 semifinal in France.
But this event was most notable for the return of Serena Williams, five months after giving birth. She hadn't played competitive tennis since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant for her 23rd career Grand Slam singles title, one off Margaret Court's record.
Serena's daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr., was wearing a headband with red and white stripes plus a blue coat Sunday as her father, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, held her just behind the players' bench.
"I didn't manage my time well, but I was thinking about it in the future how to manage it better," the younger Williams said. "This is literally my first time traveling with the baby and everything. I'm going to try to do better. It was hard. It was the first time for me."
Earlier Sunday, Venus Williams defeated Richel Hogenkamp 7-5, 6-1 to give the U.S. a decisive 3-0 lead, with the scheduled singles match between CoCo Vandeweghe and Arantxa Rus scrapped.
Two-time champion France advanced with Amandine Hesse and Kristina Mladenovic winning 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 against Belgium's Elise Mertens and Kirsten Flipkens in the deciding doubles.
Mladenovic double-faulted on her first match point at 40-15 but delivered a strong serve on the next point which proved enough, sparking wild celebrations from captain Yannick Noah and French staff members at the indoor court in La Roche Sur Yon in western France.
In the absence of seventh-ranked Caroline Garcia, who is declining to play for France as she focuses on her singles career, the 13th-ranked Mladenovic led the way by winning both her singles.
France won the competition in 1997 and 2003 but has lost three times in the final since then, most recently in 2016.
Earlier, Alison Van Uytvanck had swept aside Pauline Parmentier 6-1, 6-3 to draw Belgium level with France at 2-2 after Mladenovic rallied from 3-0 down in the second set to beat Mertens 6-4, 6-4 and put France 2-1 up.