PARIS: Slovakia and Italy edged closer to a Fed Cup final showdown on Saturday after sweeping into 2-0 leads over fading Russia and defending champions Czech Republic respectively.
Slovakia, whose only Fed Cup title came back in 2002, saw Dominika Cibulkova battle back from a set down to beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 5-7, 6-1, 6-4 in Moscow.
Then Fed Cup veteran Daniela Hantuchova, three days shy of her 30th birthday and who made her debut 14 years ago, made it 2-0 by beating Maria Kirilenko 6-2, 6-4 despite languishing 62 places beneath the Russian number one in the world rankings.
"I played well and I'm really happy with my performance," said 2002 veteran Hantuchova after her 30th singles win in the tournament.
"I have experience of playing in the Fed Cup and it helped me a lot to win. I felt confident and everything went my way from the start."
Russia, the 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008 Fed Cup champions, are once again playing without Maria Sharapova.
In Palermo, meanwhile, Italy, the 2006, 2009 and 2010 winners, won both their singles against double defending champions, the Czech Republic.
Sara Errani, the world number seven, enjoyed a 6-4, 6-2 win over Lucie Safarova while Roberta Vinci saw off former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 6-4, 6-1.
It was Vinci's second win over world number eight Kvitova in six days having clinched a straight-sets triumph in the final of the Katowice event last weekend.
"I hope I can cancel this match in my mind and have a free mind for tomorrow," Kvitova said ahead of Sunday's reverse singles and doubles.
"I'm still getting better, and it's obviously tough to be 100 per cent ready to play these girls on clay but we'll see."
The final of the Fed Cup takes place on November 2 and 3. In the World Group play-offs, world No. 1 Serena Williams cruised past Johanna Larsson 6-2, 6-2 to pull the United States level with Sweden at 1-1.
The United States are 17-time champions, but last won the Fed Cup title in 2000. Their first-round loss to Italy in February left in the playoff with Sweden to remain in the main World Group next year.
They got off to a terrible start on the outdoor hardcourt at Delray Beach, Florida, when Sofia Arvidsson beat Sloane Stephens 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 to give the Swedes a 1-0 lead.
Arvidsson blasted three aces and hammered 28 winners while Stephens, the world number 16, had five double faults and made 74 unforced errors.
After a rain delay, however, Williams got the Americans back on track as she extended her perfect Fed Cup singles record to 9-0. Serena and sister Venus - slated for doubles duty - are both playing in the event for the first time since 2007.
Spain, who won the last of their five Fed Cup titles back on 1998, took a 2-0 lead on Japan in Barcelona.
Carla Suarez Navarro beat Misaki Doi 6-3, 6-4 while Silvia Soler-Espinosa cruised past Ayumi Morita 6-2, 6-3.
Germany, the 1987 and 1992 champions, were 1-1 with Serbia, the runners-up last year, in Stuttgart.
Former world number one Ana Ivanovic gave Serbia a dream start by seeing off Fed Cup debutant Mona Barthel 7-6 (7/5), 2-6, 6-2. But Angelique Kerber, the world number six, then levelled the tie beating Bojana Jovanovski 7-5, 6-2.
Torrential rain prevented any play in Chiasso-Seseglio in the tie between Switzerland and Australia.-AFP