Switzerland confirmed its favourite status by defeating Denmark 2-1 on the second day of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Europe/Africa Zone Group I event in Eilat, Israel.
The Swiss, along with Netherlands, took an unassailable lead in their respective Pools to earn a place in Saturday's semifinals, the winners of which will gain a spot in April’s World Group II play-offs.
Hope was short-lived for Denmark despite world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki easily winning her match against veteran Patty Schnyder 63 63 to level the tie at 1-1, after Timea Bacsinszky had beat Karen Barbat 60 61.
The doubles was always going to be tough and the Swiss, who have one of the most balanced sides in the competition, had little trouble securing the win, as Schnyder and Bacsinszky eased past Wozniacki and the inexperienced Mai Grage 63 62.
"Today, I didn't know my opponent but I played a great match, I didn't miss much, Patty also fought as well and it's great to have a team spirit and the doubles really went well," Bacsinszky said, adding that Schnyder had helped her substantially in the development of her game.
Bacsinszky also believes that being Swiss and playing in the era of Roger Federer is a real inspiration. "I'm really honoured to be from the same country as Roger Federer and I'm really lucky to be part of the momentum of (Swiss) tennis," she said.
Wozniacki has been the star attraction at the event and in a good match with Schnyder, an experienced left-hander who has been ranked as high as No. 7 in the world, the Dane needed to up her game to finish off some long and exciting rallies.
Despite the fairly predictable outcome the match gave the crowd something to enjoy, but having to contend with a good, even pairing like Schnyder and Bacsinszky in the doubles was too much for Wozniacki to handle on her own.
Playing with Grage, whose doubles ranking is lower than 1000 and singles ranking just inside 900, leaves the world No. 1 with a lot to do. Finishing ahead of Great Britain could also be a big challenge on Friday.
"I did what I could today but it just wasn't enough in the doubles, but I'm happy about the way I played in my singles and we'll try again tomorrow. We just have to do the best we can with what we have and go out there and enjoy ourselves and hopefully it will be good enough," Wozniacki said.
The Swiss will have Friday off while Denmark and the British women face off hoping to avoid the bottom spot in the only three-team Pool in the tournament. The loser will be playing to avoid relegation on Saturday.
In a complicated set of permutations in their Pool, Netherlands, who beat Hungary 3-0 after a surprising whitewash of Romania on Wednesday, advanced with an inexperienced side.
Michaela Krajicek got the Dutch off to a flying start with a 62 63 win over Timea Babos, and Arantxa Rus sealed the victory by defeating Greta Arn 62 64. Kiki Bertens then teamed up with Richel Hogenkamp to beat Reka-Luca Jani and Katalin Marosi 26 62 62 in the doubles.
Belarus all but confirmed their standing as Pool winners with a second 3-0 victory, and as one of the strong teams in the event it appears unlikely that they will be stopped by Greece on Friday.
The whitewash on Thursday against Croatia saw all four players - Victoria Azarenka and Olga Govortsova in singles, and Tatiana Poutchek and Darya Kustova in doubles - participate in scoring straight set wins over their opponents. Greece could, however, go through if they beat Belarus.
The remaining Pool is still wide open, as all teams have a win and a loss after Luxembourg upset Bulgaria 2-1 and Poland beat Israel 2-1 in front of a full show court on a cool but comfortable evening in Eilat, which lies at the northern tip of the Red Sea at the southern-most point in Israel.
Luxembourg's Anne Kremer and Mandy Minella posted straight set wins respectively over Dia Evtimova and Tsvetana Pironkova, while Bulgarian doubles pair of Pironkova and Magdalena Maleeva salvaged some pride by defeating Kremer and Claudine Schaul.
Agnieszka Radwanska dampened the enthusiasm of the home crowd when she beat Shahar Peer, but Julia Glushko had earlier given Israel a major boost by winning the opening singles rubber against Magda Linette. Radwanska then teamed up with Klaudia Jans to beat Peer and Glushko in a match that proved the Polish pair's greater versatility in doubles play.
See below for Thursday's results.
Switzerland defeated Denmark 2-1
Timea Bacsinszky (SUI) d. Karen Barbat (DEN) 60 61
Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) d. Patty Schnyder (SUI) 63 63
Timea Bacsinszky / Patty Schnyder (SUI) d. Mai Grage / Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) 63 62
Poland defeated Israel 2-1
Julia Glushko (ISR) d. Magda Linette (POL) 75 63
Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) d. Shahar Peer (ISR) 63 63
Klaudia Jans / Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) d. Julia Glushko / Shahar Peer (ISR) 63 63
Luxembourg defeated Bulgaria 2-1
Anne Kremer (LUX) d. Dia Evtimova (BUL) 63 63
Mandy Minella (LUX) d. Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) 64 64
Magdalena Maleeva / Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) d. Anne Kremer / Claudine Schaul (LUX) 62 75
Belarus defeated Croatia 3-0
Olga Govortsova (BLR) d. Ani Mijacika (CRO) 62 62
Victoria Azarenka (BLR) d. Jelena Pandzic (CRO) 63 61
Darya Kustova / Tatiana Poutchek (BLR) d. Silvia Njric / Ajla Tomljanovic (CRO) 62 64
Austria defeated Greece 3-0
Patricia Mayr-Achleitner (AUT) d. Eirini Georgatou (GRE) 46 63 63
Sybille Bammer (AUT) d. Eleni Daniilidou (GRE) 75 63
Melanie Klaffner / Sandra Klemenschits (AUT) d. Eirini Georgatou / Despoina Papamichail (GRE) 62 61
Netherlands defeated Hungary 3-0
Michaella Krajicek (NED) d. Timea Babos (HUN) 62 63
Arantxa Rus (NED) d. Greta Arn (HUN) 62 64
Kiki Bertens / Richel Hogenkamp (NED) d. Reka Luba Jani / Katalin Marosi (HUN) 26 62 62
Romania 2-1 Latvia
Monica Niculescu (ROU) d. Irina Kuzmina (LAT) 64 62
Alexandra Dulgheru (ROU) d. Liga Dekmeijere (LAT) 62 61
Liga Dekmeijere / Irina Kuzmina (LAT) d. Cristina Dinu / Alexandra Dulgheru (ROU) 64 06 75
- Europe/Africa Zone Group I