France and Switzerland enjoyed perfect starts to their Davis Cup World Group first round ties on Friday but the Czech Republic stuttered in their quest for a third consecutive title.
Roger Federer and newly crowned Australian Open winner Stanislas Wawrinka put the Swiss 2-0 up in Serbia to leave last year’s beaten finalists on the brink of an early elimination.
Australia too were heading for the Davis Cup exit after Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet were on target for France.
Wimbledon champion Andy Murray and James Ward won their opening singles matches in San Diego as Great Britain pushed the United States to the brink on the opening day.
In Ostrava, the Czechs were left facing an uphill battle when the Netherlands’ Robin Haase saw off Radek Stepanek (CZE) 3-6 6-4 6-7 (4-7) 6-2 6-1.
But Tomas Berdych cruised past Igor Sijsling (NED) 6-3 6-3 6-0 to draw the 2012 and 2013 champions back level ahead of Saturday’s doubles.
“I didn’t know much about him… I tried to attack him a lot,” said Berdych, a semi-finalist of the Australian Open where he lost to eventual champion Wawrinka.
Elsewhere five-time winners Spain, missing Rafael Nadal, were up against it losing 2-0 to Germany in Frankfurt, Argentina were level 1-1 with Italy in Mar del Plata, Kazakhstan led Belgium 2-0 in Astana, and Japan and Canada were all square in Tokyo.
In San Diego, world number six Murray set the tone for Great Britain with a dominant 6-1 6-2 6-3 defeat of Donald Young.
Sam Querrey seemed poised to get the hosts back on terms before Ward – down two sets and trailing 2-4 in the fourth – roared back to win 1-6 7-6 (7-3) 3-6 6-4 6-1.
On the clay in Mouilleron-le-Captif, France were sitting pretty after Gasquet beat Aussie teenager Nick Kyrgios 7-6 (7-3) 6-2 6-2 before Tsonga ousted Lleyton Hewitt 6-3 6-2 7-6 (7-2).
Federer, a last-minute addition to the Swiss team, won through 6-4 7-5 6-2 against 268th-ranked Ilija Bozoljac on the hard court surface in Novi Sad.
The Swiss, buoyed with two Grand Slam winners in their ranks, are favourites with Serbia weakened by the absence of star turns Novak Djokovic and Janko Tipsarevic.
Tired from his exploits in the heat of Melbourne Wawrinka then stepped up to battle past 102nd ranked Dusan Lajovic 6-4 4-6 6-1 7-6 (9-7).
“It was a tough match and it wasn’t easy for me to come here after the last few weeks,” Wawrinka told reporters.
“I didn’t really have enough time to get ready as I was exhausted both mentally and physically, but I was determined to fight and win the match and I was really happy to get through it.
“He is a good player and tough to beat in front of his home fans so it was a tough situation for me, so we are really happy to be 2-0 up after the opening day.”
In Frankfurt, Philipp Kohlschreiber gave Germany a winning start over Spain with a 6-2 6-4 6-2 victory in less than two hours against Roberto Bautista Agut.
Spain’s 26th-ranked Feliciano Lopez then fell 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (7-4) 1-6 5-7 6-3 to Florian Mayer, ranked 29, in their second rubber.
The Spanish are playing without their stars – world number one Nadal and fifth-ranked David Ferrer.
In Mar del Plata, Carlos Berlocq put hosts Argentina ahead by beating Italy’s Andreas Seppi 4-6 6-0 6-2 6-1.
But Italy drew level when Fabio Fognini defeated Juan Monaco 7-5 6-2 6-2.
In Tokyo, Japanese number one Kei Nishikori beat Canada’s Peter Polansky 6-4 6-4 6-4 before Frank Dancevic levelled 6-4 7-6 (7-2) 6-1 win over Go Soeda.