PARIS – Seventeen-time Fed Cup winners United States were locked in a semi-final dogfight with Russia on Saturday while defending champions Italy looked on course to reach a fourth final in five seasons.
Elena Dementieva downed Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-4, 6-3 in Birmingham, Alabama, to lift Russia into a 1-1 tie with the US, who were once again missing both Williams sisters, in their semi-final.
Melanie Oudin had earlier defeated Alla Kudryavtseva 6-3, 6-3, smacking 18 winners and taking advantage of 39 unforced errors by Kudryavtseva to win in 78 minutes.
"I wanted to get out to 1-0 for my team. It's really nice to win, I didn't feel too much pressure," said Oudin, who played in the US team which lost the 2009 final to Italy.
The indoor hardcourt matchup will be decided on Sunday, when Dementieva meets Oudin and Mattek-Sands will face Kudryavtseva. A closing doubles match will settle the outcome if the US and Russia split singles once again.
In Rome, champions Italy took control of their semi-final against the Czech Republic to lead 2-0.
Italian Flavia Pennetta ground out a 6-4, 7-5 victory against Lucie Hradecka before Francesca Schiavone thrashed Czech number one Lucie Safarova 6-0, 6-2 on the Roman clay.
Italy were off to the perfect start despite the brief inconvenience of a rain delay.
Pennetta, who won her first title of 2010 on clay in Marbella two weeks ago, took her time to get going and slumped to a 4-1 first set deficit before turning it around with five games on the trot.
The second set followed an almost identical pattern, with world number 15 Pennetta again going down 4-1 before hitting back to win that 7-5.
The second singles rubber was a stroll for the experienced Schiavone, two places below her compatriot in the world rankings, as the world number 38 Safarova offered little resistance.
"We followed all the tactics and now we can enjoy this beautiful point," said Schiavone
The pair will swap opponents on Sunday and if the Czechs mount an unlikely comeback a doubles rubber will be needed, in which Italy can field Roberta Vinci, who has never lost a Fed Cup doubles match.