PRAGUE (AFP) - Petra Kvitova made a tearful return to the Fed Cup on Saturday (Feb 10) while the United States were beginning their title defence without Serena Williams whose widely-hyped reappearance in the sport has been delayed 24 hours.
Kvitova helped 10-time champions Czech Republic into a 2-0 lead over Switzerland in Prague with the two-time Wimbledon winner admitting her team had been inspired by a moving tribute to fellow All England Club champion Jana Novotna.
“We went onto the court and held the minute’s silence which made us cry,” 27-year-old Kvitova told reporters after beating Viktorija Golubic 6-2, 1-6, 6-3.
The tribute to fellow Czech Novotna, who died aged 49 last November after a long battle with cancer, came just before Kvitova’s first Fed Cup rubber since a knife-wielding burglar cut her racquet hand in December 2016.
“We thought, what a beginning, it’s not ideal to go out there and play tennis right now.”
Under a large portrait of 1998 Wimbledon champion Novotna holding the trophy, the Czech team remained silent for a while, then started a round of applause which was shared by the crowd in Prague’s O2 Arena.
“It was very sad... but a nice gesture,” said Kvitova.
Barbora Strycova then eased past Belinda Bencic 6-2, 6-4 to put the Czechs in charge of the first round tie.
Lying in wait in April’s semi-finals will be either 2017 runners-up Belarus or Germany who were level at 1-1 after the first day in Minsk.
Antonia Lottner, making her Fed Cup debut for Germany, downed Aliaksandra Sasnovich 7-5, 6-4 after Aryna Sabalenka had earlier seen off Tatjana Maria 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.
In La Roche sur Yon, France, like Germany two-time winners of the Fed Cup, fought back to 1-1 against Belgium.
Elise Mertens, who made the Australian Open semi-finals last month, gave Belgium the first point by easing past Pauline Parmentier 6-2, 6-1 before Kristina Mladenovic pulled France level with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Kirsten Flipkens.
Later Saturday, 18-time champions United States start the defence of their title at home to the Netherlands, even if drawcard Serena Williams won’t play until Sunday.
Williams hasn’t played a competitive match since lifting her 23rd Grand Slam crown at the 2017 Australian Open since when she took time out to have her first baby and get married.
The 36-year-old won’t play Saturday in Asheville, North Carolina, with big sister Venus opening the singles against Arantxa Rus and Coco Vandeweghe facing Richel Hogenkamp.
Serena is scheduled to play doubles on Sunday alongside Lauren Davis.