PARIS - Australia and Germany aim to end decades of Fed Cup pain when they clash in the semi-finals while Italy and the Czech Republic, the current tournament heavyweights, face off in the other last-four tie. Australia's last final appearance was in 1993 when they lost to Spain while the most recent of their seven titles came way back in 1974 when Evonne Goolagong was in her pomp.
Germany haven't won the competition since 1992 when Steffi Graf and Anke Huber starred in the team which defeated Spain. "It's a great opportunity for our team," admitted Australia captain Alicia Molik who has home advantage with the Saturday-Sunday tie being played in Brisbane. "It's time for us to make our little piece of history." Australia cruised past an under-powered Russia to make the semi-finals and will again be looking to former US Open champion Samantha Stosur, the world number 19, and Casey Dellacqua, the world 53, to see them through. Teenagers Ashleigh Barty and Storm Sanders make up the four-woman team. Germany reached the semi-finals for the first time in 19 years by defeating Slovakia.
Their singles hopes will be spearheaded by world number seven Angelique Kerber, one of only four members of the top 10 playing Fed Cup this weekend, and Andrea Petkovic, the champion in Charleston last week. Germany are captained by Barbara Rittner who played doubles when her country last won the Fed Cup. Australia and Germany are meeting for a 13th time with the Australians currently holding an 8-4 advantage having also won the most recent meeting two years ago in Stuttgart. Unlike Germany and Australia who have struggled to make an impact in the Fed Cup in recent years, the Czech Republic and Italy have been busily making the tournament a two-nation affair. Italy were champions in 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2013 while the Czechs took the title in 2011 and 2012. Russia, with wins in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008, are the only other nation to have captured the Fed Cup in the last decade. The Czechs and Italy meet in Ostrava in what will be their fourth semi-final clash in the last five years with the home side winning each of the previous three before going on to claim the title. The Czech Republic made the semi-finals when Andrea Hlavackova and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova won the decisive doubles to see off Spain while Italy eased past 17-time champions the USA 3-1 in Cleveland. World number six and former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and world number 26 Lucie Safarova lead the Czech challenge while Italy have recalled Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci, who skipped the quarter-final.
In the World Group play-offs, where a place in the elite section is on offer for 2015, the United States, without the Williams sisters, host France in St Louis while Russia, minus Maria Sharapova, take on Argentina in Sochi at a venue used for this year's Winter Olympics. Slovakia face Canada in Quebec City while Poland, with world number three Agnieszka Radwanska in the mix, head to Barcelona to play Spain.