Italy on Sunday kept their Fed Cup title defense on track, downing the US to join Australia and Germany in the semi-finals of the women’s tennis competition.
Karin Knapp claimed the decisive third point for Italy, giving them an unbeatable 3-0 lead with a 6-3, 7-5 victory over American Alison Riske.
The holders will not know their opponents for the semi-finals on April 19 and April 20 until Spain and the Czech Republic finish their ties after rain in Seville forced decisive matches to be pushed back to yesterday.
Italy and the US were missing their top players for the tie on an indoor hard court in Cleveland, Ohio.
Italy, seeking a fifth Fed Cup in nine years, were without Sara Errani and Flavia Pennetta, while the US were without injured stars Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens.
However, Knapp, ranked 40th in the world, came through with two victories. She opened the tie with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 win over Christina McHale on Saturday, when Camila Giorgi crushed US teen Madison Keys 6-2, 6-1.
In the meaningless doubles match, Keys and Lauren Davis beat Nastassja Burnett and Alice Matteucci 6-2, 6-3 to prevent the whitewash, giving Italy a 3-1 triumph.
US captain Mary Joe Fernandez opted to substitute Riske for Keys in Sunday’s reverse singles, hoping her more aggressive style would prove troublesome for the Italian.
Instead, Knapp broke Riske seven times and while the Italian’s nerves got the better of her in her first two chances to serve for the match, she finished in style with a love game punctuated by a service winner on her first match point.
Australia ensured their place in the next round for the first time in 21 years with a crushing Samantha Stosur-inspired 4-0 defeat of Russia.
“We’re still in it, so we have a chance to win it,” Stosur said of Australia’s prospects of claiming the title for the first time since 1974.
For that, they will have to overcome Germany in the semis.
The Germans, who were last crowned champions in 1992, qualified 3-1 after Angelique Kerber defeated Slovakia’s Australian Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) in the first of the reverse singles in Bratislava.
In the Fed Cup World Group II, Alize Cornet and Kristina Mladenovic beat Belinda Bencic and Timea Bacsinszky 7-5, 6-4 in doubles on Sunday to give France a 3-2 win over Switzerland in their first-round tie.
In a first set with five service breaks, the Swiss pair took a 4-1 lead, but Bencic failed to serve out the set at 5-3 before Bacsinszky’s forehand went wide to drop serve at 5-5.
The hosts broke Bencic in the fifth game of the second set, but Mladenovic committed three double-faults to drop serve in the next game. Mladenovic made amends by earning the decisive break at 3-3 with and the French pair won the match when Bacsinszky’s backhand sailed long.
Cornet and Mladenovic celebrated their victory with a chest bump, as Bencic cried on her chair.
France and Switzerland will compete in playoffs on April 19 and April 20, with France trying to gain promotion to the World Group while Switzerland will aim to stay in World Group II.