Czechs and Russia look good for Fed Cup final

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Opening victory: Lucie Safarova.

Lucie Safarova and Petra Kvitova gave holders the Czech Republic a 2-0 lead over France in the Fed Cup semi-finals after the opening rubbers yesterday.

– Novak Djokovic too strong for Rafael Nadal in Monte Carlo
– VIDEO: Djokovic and co. speak after Laureus World Sports Awards

On the hardcourt of the CEZ Arena in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava, world number 13 and Czech number two Safarova took an hour and 58 minutes to beat 29th-ranked Caroline Garcia 4-6, 7-6 (7/1), 6-1.

World number four Kvitova then saw off 58th-ranked Kristina Mladenovic 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 21 minutes to take the Czechs within a point of the finals.

Today Kvitova faces Garcia before, if necessary, Safarova faces Mladenovic and a final doubles match. In the other semi-final, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova battled back from a set down to defeat Sabine Lisicki as Russia took a comfortable 2-0 lead over Germany.

Svetlana Kuznetsova earlier beat Julia Goerges 6-4, 6-4 at the red clay court of Adler Arena as four-time champions Russia edged closer towards the final.

The 23-year-old Pavlyuchenkova won 4-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-3 in two hours 28 minutes to record her second win over Lisicki in as many meetings.

“It was a very hard match,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “I feel worn out but I’m really happy to give my team this win today. After winning the second set in the tiebreak I was stoked and it helped me to start the deciding set pretty well.”

Russia, who are without late withdrawal Maria Sharapova, need just a point today as the singles matches reverse.

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Djokovic too strong for Nadal, Berdych beats Monfils

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Eyes on the prize: Djokovic.

Novak Djokovic overpowered eight-time champion Rafael Nadal to reach the final of the Monte Carlo Masters.

– VIDEO: Djokovic and co. speak after Laureus World Sports Awards
– #Quiz360: WIN dinner for 2 at the Jumeira Rotana hotel in Dubai

Djokovic, the world number one, will meet Tomas Berdych in today’s final and victory will see the Serb become the first player to sweep the opening three ATP World Tour Masters 1000s of the season.

The 27-year-old has not dropped a set on his 2015 clay-court debut this week and he was simply too good for Nadal as he closed out a comfortable 6-3, 6-3 victory in one hour and 38 minutes.

“I’m very happy with how I played against such a tough opponent. Rafa is the all-time best on the clay, it was not an easy match,” the Serb said.

“I played well, it was a relief to get this win. There was a lot of tension, it was tough to keep it all under control. I know the final with Tomas will be a different kind of match, but I’ll do my best to recover and get ready.”

Nadal managed an early break but Australian Open champion Djokovic levelled at 2-2 and broke the Spaniard in the eighth game to take a stranglehold on the first set.

Djokovic’s second-set pressure told in the seventh game as he broke for a 4-3 lead and he rattled off the final two games, with only Berdych now in his way from adding the Monte Carlo title to his March Masters wins in Indian Wells and Miami.

Sixth seed Berdych booked a spot in his fourth Masters 1000 final by ending the run of wild card entry Gael Monfils 6-1, 6-4.

Monfils, the number 14 seed, upset world number two Roger Federer in the third round but he could not disturb the impressive Berdych as he missed out on becoming the first Frenchman to reach the Monte Carlo final since Cedric Pioline won the tournament 15 years ago.

The Czech capitalised on 13 unforced errors from Monfils to wrap up the first set in 26 minutes and, although Berdych dropped his serve in the second game of the second set, his dominance over Monfils continued and he sealed victory in 68 minutes.

Berdych, an Australian Open semi-finalist in January, will now be hoping to improve on runner-up finishes in Doha and Rotterdam earlier this season.

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Rafael Nadal struggles but survives to face Novak Djokovic in Monte Carlo

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Rafael Nadal celebrates victory against David Ferrer during day six of the Monte Carlo Masters.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will meet for a record 43rd time on Saturday as the star pair battle for a spot in the final of the Monte Carlo Masters.

Nadal leads Djokovic 23-19 in the series which began nine years ago; the Spaniard, now fifth in the ATP rankings, won their last meeting in the Roland Garros final last June.

– VIDEO: Djokovic and co. speak after Laureus World Sports Awards

– #Quiz360: WIN dinner for 2 at the Jumeira Rotana hotel in Dubai

Top seed Djokovic crushed Marin Cilic 6-0, 6-3 in Friday's quarter-final, while eight-time Monte Carlo winner Nadal, slowly building up his form and confidence after a relatively poor previous 12 months, finally came through 6-4, 5-7, 6-2 against countryman David Ferrer.

Nadal, the third seed, struggled through in two and three-quarter hours after faltering when leading by a set and 3-0.

Djokovic won the first eight games against Croatia's reigning US Open champion who is seeded eighth but still coming back from months of shoulder problems.

Should he win the title on Sunday, Djokovic would become the first man to lift trophies at the opening three Masters 1000 tournaments of the season after completing the Indian Wells-Miami title double.

Gael Monfils continued into uncharted territory, with the Frenchman slugging Grigor Dimitrov 6-1, 6-3 for a career-first semi-final in the principality where he had never previously been past the third round.

The flamboyant Monfils followed up on his surprise victory against Roger Federer in the previous round while Bulgarian ninth seed Dimitrov came onto the clay as just a shadow of the player who knocked out holder Stan Wawrinka on Thursday with the loss of just three games.

Monfils, levelling his career in Monaco to 8-8, will next take on Tomas Berdych, who advanced into the final four as opponent Milos Raonic retired with a right foot injury.

Monfils stands 1-5 against the sixth-seeded Czech, who won his 26th match of the season when Raonic quit.

Sixth seed Berdych, now 2-3 against Raonic, spent just 31 minutes on court against an opponent carrying the existing handicap into the match.

Berdych has yet to drop a set this week and was in total charge through his brief encounter with Raonic, striking 10 winners and breaking twice.

Berdych will be playing in his 18th semi-final at the Masters 1000 level; he also played Monte Carlo semis in 2007 (lost to Nadal) and 2012 (lost to Djokovic).

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