Depleted Czechs, Swiss battle in Fed Cup semis

With two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova (pictured) struggling for form, the Czechs will count on 18th-ranked Karolina Pliskova as they bid for a fifth Fed Cup title in six years

Paris (AFP) – Defending champions Czech Republic will have to make do without leading duo Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova for this weekend’s Fed Cup semi-final against Switzerland in Lucerne.

However, the hosts also suffered a hefty blow as Swiss number one Belinda Bencic pulled out of the tie with a back injury that will require the 19-year-old to rest for at least four weeks.

With two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova struggling for form and Safarova sliding down the rankings as she grapples with the impact of a bacterial infection from last September, the Czechs will count on 18th-ranked Karolina Pliskova as they bid for a fifth title in six years.

Pliskova won both singles rubbers before teaming up with Barbora Strycova to overcome Romania 3-2 in February, and those two will be joined by 61st-ranked Denisa Allertova and veteran Lucie Hradecka, who is 10th in the doubles rankings.  

The Swiss toppled a Germany team featuring Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber in round one, but coach Heinz Guenthardt has opted against naming a replacement for the sidelined Bencic.

Without the world number 10, Switzerland could be forced to turn to Martina Hingis in singles as well as doubles to back up Timea Bacsinszky, with 129th-ranked Viktorija Golubic the only other alternative.

“Of course the absence of Belinda Bencic is a big loss, but my three players have the potential,” said Guenthardt, in quotes carried by Swiss media.

“We could have called up other players but that wouldn’t have made the team any stronger.”

Switzerland are eyeing their first Fed Cup final since 1998 when Hingis, then at the peak of her powers, was part of the side that lost 3-2 to Spain.

The 35-year-old, still number one in the world in doubles, played her first full singles match since 2007 in last year’s World Group play-off against Poland, losing twice, but she said she would step up again “if the circumstances require it”.

France are chasing a first finals appearance since 2005 and go into their tie on clay in Trelaze as heavy favourites against surprise semi-finalists the Netherlands.

Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia teamed up to win the doubles at Charleston last week, while the presence of Alize Cornet ensures France have three players inside the top 50 at their disposal.

In contrast, the Dutch, who dumped out Russia to reach the last four for the first time since 1997, have just one representative inside the world’s top 100 in Kiki Bertens (96).