Australia edged closer to a first Davis Cup final in 14 years on Saturday when Jordan Thompson and John Peers swept past Arthur De Greef and Ruben Bemelmans 6-3, 6-4, 6-0 for a 2-1 lead in their semi-final against Belgium.
Australia, the 28-time champions, look likely to face nine-time winners France who are 2-1 up on Serbia thanks to Nicolas Mahut and Pierre-Hugues Herbert clinching a 6-1, 6-2, 7-6 (3) win over Nenad Zimonjic and Filip Krajinovic.
Lleyton Hewitt’s Australia last won the Davis Cup in 2003 when they beat Spain in the final.
“We had a job to do today and we came out and did it from start to finish. Playing with Thommo and in front of this crowd and perform the way we did is just incredible,” said Peers after Saturday’s win in Brussels.
Nick Kyrgios can wrap up the tie for Australia on Sunday when he takes on fellow national number one David Goffin in the first of the reverse singles.
Kyrgios defeated Steve Darcis 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-2 on Friday, while Goffin saw off John Millman 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-3, 7-5.
In Lille, Mahut and Herbert needed less than two hours to see off Serbia’s 41-year-old playing captain Zimonjic and Krajinovic.
That Yannick Noah’s hosts have yet to book their place in the final is down to Dusan Lajovic’s shock 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (7), 7-6 (5) win in Friday’s opening rubber against Lucas Pouille, although Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had levelled the tie by beating debutant Laslo Djere 7-6 (2), 6-3, 6-3.
Mahut and Herbert, the 2015 US Open and 2016 Wimbledon champions, came back from 2-5 down in the third set to wrap up the win.
France are bidding for a first Davis Cup title since 2001, having lost three finals since with the most recent a defeat by Roger Federer’s Switzerland in 2014.
“Nico and Pierre-Hugues had a mini-test at the end. It was probably too easy and they wanted to give me an ulcer. But they did very well. They had a good match,” said Noah.
In the play-offs, where the winning teams will compete in the World Group in 2018, Japan’s tie with Brazil in Osaka was overshadowed by a racism row.
Brazil’s Guilherme Clezar was fined $1,500 by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for making what appeared to be a slit-eyed gesture.
The 24-year-old journeyman issued an apology but denied any racist intent following the incident during his defeat by Yuichi Sugita on Friday.
After successfully challenging a line call in the third-set tiebreak, an exasperated Clezar stretched his eyes in an apparent criticism of the line judge who made the call.
Saturday’s action was rained off with Japan 2-0 ahead after Friday’s opening singles.
In Astana, Kazakhstan are 2-1 up on 2016 champions Argentina while 2014 winners Switzerland trail Belarus 2-1 in Biel.
Max Mirnyi, 40, celebrated his 55th tie for Belarus over a 24-year career by teaming with Andrei Vasilevski in a 7-6 (6), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3) win over Adrian Bodmer and Luca Margaroli.
The Czech Republic lead the Netherlands 2-1 while Hungary have a similar advantage over Russia.
The other World Group ties — Colombia v Croatia, Portugal against Germany and Canada at home to India — are all level at 1-1 ahead of Saturday’s doubles.
After yet another impressive performance, Roger Federer is into the semi-finals of the Australian Open 2017.
The Swiss, four-time Melbourne champion, beat Mischa Zverev 6-1, 7-5, 6-2 to move to the final four of the competition.
He will now be facing his fellow countrymen Stan Wawrinka in the semi-finals.
Karolina Pliskova will arrive at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships next month with her confidence sky-high after she got 2017 off to a flying start by claiming her seventh career title at the Brisbane International last week.
That triumph followed her best-ever season during which the world No. 5 won Nottingham and Cincinnati and reached the Eastbourne final, before coming within one victory of earning her first Grand Slam crown at the US Open – overcoming Venus Williams in the fourth round and Serena Williams in the semis before falling in three nail-biting sets to Angelique Kerber.
She then closed out her year by playing a part in her country’s Fed Cup final victory over France. Her incredible opening rubber victory over Kristina Mladenovic finished 16-14 in the third, with the tie’s 49 games the third most ever played in a Fed Cup match.
In view of her success at such prestigious tournaments it is surprising that Pliskova claims to be less than comfortable at such events, although it is something she is adapting to over time.
“I always knew I had a big game so if I’m playing well I can beat the good players, the best players,” she said.
“But it’s tough sometimes to play the best tennis on the big stages. Now I think I finally got used to it. I’m not scared of anything, not my opponents, not myself, not the crowd, not anything. I think it just takes time with me and some experience, which I have now.”
Pliskova will need all her confidence when she comes up against one of the strongest fields ever assembled for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships next month.
Seven further members of the top 10 are also vying for the title, including world number one Angelique Kerber, reigning French Open champion Garbine Muguruza and former Dubai winners, Agnieszka Radwanska, Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki.
Others bidding for one of the most sought-after trophies on the WTA Tour will be worthy challengers such as WTA Finals champion Dominika Cibulkova, Britain’s Johanna Konta and three-time Dubai finalist and two-time Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova.
After her great run in New York it is natural that many eyes will be upon her to see if Pliskova can go one win better at the Australian Open. But although that surely adds extra pressure she insists that will not be the case.
“I’m not going to feel any pressure (in Melbourne),” she said. “Obviously people are going to say that I have a good chance. I’m hearing this more often, that I’m going to win a Grand Slam this year. But I don’t care if it’s this year or next year. I just want to try at every Grand Slam and do the best results there.”
And to further her bid for a Grand Slam crown and to continue her climb up the rankings she is trying to add more of a net game to her arsenal.
“I want to move closer to the net and have easier volleys,” she revealed to WTA Insider. “It’s improving. I think the doubles with Julia Goerges really helped me. I played a lot of doubles last year, even the year before, but last year we played really good. We’re going to continue this year. You have to play good volleys in doubles. So I think this really helped me.”
Certainly the pair have been enjoying plenty of court time and top-level competition, as in 2016 they reached the semi-finals of both the Australian Open and Wimbledon as well as Cincinnati, and they reached the Indian Wells final. Karolina also won Birmingham with Barbora Strycova and reached the Nottingham semis with her sister Kristyna.
Sunday morning posing with trophy🏆😘 pic.twitter.com/GSQlGQogDi— Karolina Pliskova (@KaPliskova) January 8, 2017
“Karolina Pliskova showed us in 2015 what she is capable of when she reached the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships final by defeating such accomplished opponents as Ana Ivanovic and Garbine Muguruza,” said Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, the tournament owners and organisers.
“It will be very interesting to see how she fares this year against a field that is second to none.”
“Pliskova will face a formidable challenge as the event boasts one of the toughest draws outside of a Grand Slam” said Tournament Director Salah Tahlak.
“The depth of the field this year means that Dubai tennis fans will have a fantastic opportunity to see for themselves nearly every top player in the world.”
Staged at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Stadium in Garhoud, the action will commence on 19 February with the WTA Premier 5 event, followed on 27 February with the ATP 500 tournament offering a combined prize pool of US$5.2 million.