PARIS: Kristina Mladenovic ended Coco Vandeweghe's 13-match Fed Cup win streak to pull France level at 1-1 against 18-time champions the United States in a gruelling semi-final on Saturday (Apr 21).
The US, playing without Serena and Venus Williams, had taken a 1-0 lead in Aix-en-Provence after US Open champion Sloane Stephens defeated Pauline Parmentier 7-6 (7/3), 7-5.
However, world number 20 Mladenovic then shrugged off a back injury to come from a set down and defeat 16th-ranked Vandeweghe 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 to leave the semi-final delicately poised ahead of Sunday's two reverse singles and doubles rubber.
Mladenovic, who won all of her matches in February's first round victory over Belgium, looked dead and buried at a set and 3-0 down to the big-hitting American.
But the 24-year-old Frenchwoman hauled herself back to 3-3 and never looked back as Vandeweghe's game fell apart.
World number nine Stephens claimed her first win in the Fed Cup in two years but it was hard work against Parmentier, ranked a lowly 122 and only playing after seventh-ranked Caroline Garcia and number 35 Alize Cornet opted not to take part.
Parmentier had led 5-2 in the first set and had break points for a potential 5-3 advantage in the second before Stephens, fresh off her title run in Miami, battled back.
"That was a battle," admitted Stephens. "My first Fed Cup win in two years feels awesome."
France captain Yannick Noah admitted: "We could have been 2-0 ahead in the tie if things had gone differently."
In the other semi-final in Stuttgart, 10-time champions Czech Republic romped into a 2-0 lead over Germany.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, the world number 10, needed just over an hour for an emphatic 6-3, 6-2 win over 11th-ranked Julia Goerges.
Karolina Pliskova, the match's highest-ranked player at six, followed that up with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Angelique Kerber, a fellow former world number one.
"Nobody expected that," said Pliskova, who had been 3-7 in career meetings before Saturday against former Australian and US Open champion Kerber.
For Kvitova, it was a fifth win in six meetings with Georges.
The Czechs now look well set to continue their impressive recent Fed Cup form having won the title five times in the last seven years.
Germany have only beaten the Czechs once in eight meetings and that was back in 1987 in Vancouver.
Goerges will now be under pressure to win Sunday's opening rubber against Pliskova to save the Germans from defeat in their home semi.