France, Switzerland and Britain enjoyed perfect starts to their Davis Cup World Group first-round ties on Friday as the Czech Republic made a stuttering start to their three-peat bid.
Roger Federer and newly crowned Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka put Switzerland 2-0 up in Serbia to leave last year’s beaten finalists on the brink of an early elimination.
Australia, too, were heading for the Davis Cup exit after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet were on target for France.
Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and James Ward won their opening singles matches in San Diego as Britain pushed the US to the brink on the opening day.
In Ostrava, the Czech Republic were left facing an uphill battle when the Netherlands’ Robin Haase saw off Radek Stepanek 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (4/7), 6-2, 6-1.
However, Tomas Berdych cruised past Igor Sijsling 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 to draw the 2012 and reigning champions back level ahead of today’s doubles.
“I didn’t know much about him... I tried to attack him a lot,” said Berdych, a semi-finalist at the Australian Open, where he lost to eventual champion Wawrinka.
Elsewhere five-time winners Spain, missing Rafael Nadal, were up against it trailing 2-0 to Germany in Frankfurt, Argentina were level 1-1 with Italy in Mar del Plata, Kazakhstan led Belgium 2-0 in Astana, while Japan and Canada were all square in Tokyo.
In San Diego, world No. 6 Murray set the tone for Britain with a dominant 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 defeat of Donald Young.
Sam Querrey seemed poised to get the hosts back on terms, before Ward — down two sets and trailing 2-4 in the fourth set — roared back to win 1-6, 7-6 (7/3), 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.
Ward won 10 of the last 11 games, belting seven aces and 53 winners in the 3 hour, 11 minute match on a clay court at Petco Park, home of Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres.
“I started reading him a little bit better,” Ward said. “He was going to my backhand a lot on the first serve, so I started to stand back a little bit further to give myself more time.”
On the clay in Mouilleron-le-Captif, France were sitting pretty after Gasquet beat Australian teenager Nick Kyrgios 7-6 (7/3), 6-2, 6-2, before Tsonga ousted Lleyton Hewitt 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (7/2).
World No. 10 Tsonga had defeated Hewitt, ranked 41, in all their three previous ties and won through in 1 hour, 51 minutes to give Arnaud Clement’s men the chance to finish off the tie in the doubles today.
“It was the perfect match. I was walking on water for two sets,” Tsonga said.
Federer, a last-minute addition to the Switzerland team, won through 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 against world No. 268 Ilija Bozoljac on the hard court in Novi Sad.
The Swiss, bouyed with two Grand Slam winners in their ranks, are favorites with Serbia weakened by the absence of star turns Novak Djokovic and Janko Tipsarevic.
Tired from his exploits in the heat of Melbourne, Wawrinka nevertheless stepped up to battle past world No. 102 Dusan Lajovic 6-4, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (9/7).
“It was a tough match and it wasn’t easy for me to come here after the last few weeks,” Wawrinka said. “I didn’t really have enough time to get ready as I was exhausted both mentally and physically, but I was determined to fight and win the match.”
In Frankfurt, Philipp Kohlschreiber gave Germany a winning start over Spain with a 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 victory in less than two hours against Roberto Bautista Agut.
Spain’s world No. 26 Feliciano Lopez then fell 7-6 (8/6), 7-6 (7/4), 1-6, 5-7, 6-3 to Florian Mayer, ranked 29, in the second rubber.
Spain were playing without their stars — world No. 1 Nadal and fifth-ranked David Ferrer.
In Mar del Plata, Carlos Berlocq put hosts Argentina ahead by beating Italy’s Andreas Seppi 4-6, 6-0, 6-2, 6-1, but Italy drew level when Fabio Fognini defeated Juan Monaco 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.
In Tokyo, Japanese No. 1 Kei Nishikori beat Canada’s Peter Polansky 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, before Frank Dancevic leveled with a 6-4, 7-6 (7/2), 6-1 win over Go Soeda.