The Czech Republic's hopes of a third consecutive Fed Cup title were receding fast on Saturday as Italy surged 2-0 ahead in their semi-final in Palermo.
World number seven Sara Errani got the Italians off to a great start with a 6-4 6-2 defeat of Lucie Safarova before Roberta Vinci was a surprisingly easy 6-4 6-1 winner against former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.
Kvitova, who had won 13 of her last 14 singles rubbers in the competition, was no match for Vinci with her superior power unable to make any impact on the slow Palermo clay.
In the other semi-final in Moscow, Dominika Cibulkova came from a set down to give Slovakia a good start by beating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 5-7 6-1 6-4 in the opening singles.
The world number 15 secured a key break in the seventh game of the deciding set for a 4-3 lead before sealing victory after two-and-a-half hours when Pavlyuchenkova hit wide.
"It was a very, very tough match especially playing in a foreign country," Cibulkova told reporters.
"I was very nervous at the beginning, was making a lot of errors, double faults, but gradually I got back into the match. I was telling myself not to give up, to keep fighting. This inner strength has helped me win this match."
Maria Kirilenko will try to haul Russia level when she takes on Daniela Hantuchova in the second singles at the Krylatskoye Arena later.
(Reporting by Gennady Fyodorov; Additional reporting by Martyn Herman in London; Editing by Clare Fallon)