Paris :Serbia's passionate dream of reaching a first Davis Cup final survived the shock withdrawal of world number two Novak Djokovic on Friday while France eased to the verge of December's title match.
US Open runner-up Djokovic withdrew from the opening rubber of the semi-final against the Czech Republic complaining of gastro-enteritis with teammate Victor Troicki, the world number 47, stepping into the breach.
Radek Stepanek, who helped take the Czechs to the final last year, overcame Troicki 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 to give his side a 1-0 lead.
But a vocal crowd of 15,000 in Belgrade then carried Janko Tipsarevic to a 7-5, 6-2, 2-6, 7-6 (7/5) win over world number seven Tomas Berdych, the Wimbledon runner-up, to leave the tie finely-balanced ahead of Saturday's doubles.
"It feels great to beat a top 10 player at home," said Tipsarevic, who knocked Andy Roddick out of the US Open.
"It didn't matter what happened (with Djokovic). My plan was to play well from start to finish."
Djokovic had only returned from America early on Wednesday after losing to Rafael Nadal in the US Open final on Monday.
But he hinted he was ready to return to play on Saturday as well as Sunday's reverse singles if necessary.
"I heard that Djokovic wasn't going to play about three hours before the start," said Stepanek.
"But it's not our problem. You have to be ready whoever is on the other side of the net."
Stepanek said it was his best performance since his return to action.
"When you play for your country, you have a lion in your heart," he said.
France, the nine-time winners, were 2-0 ahead of Argentina in their semi-final in Lyon after Michael Llodra served and volleyed his way to a 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 win over Juan Monaco.
World number 15 Gael Monfils then saw off David Nalbandian 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Llodra, the world number 30, showed no signs off the dizziness which forced him to retire in the US Open third round.
Service proved the key difference for the Frenchman as he sent down 22 aces compared to the Argentine's five.
"I was very nervous at the start," said Llodra. "But I had to focus and play my game because anything can happen in the Davis Cup."
In the play-offs to clinch a World Group place in 2011, Kazakhstan made the most of Roger Federer's decision not to play by opening a 2-0 lead over Switzerland in Astana.
Andrey Golubev saw off Marco Chiudinelli 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 before Mikhail Kukushkin defeated Stanislas Wawrinka, a player he had lost to in the first round of the US Open just two weeks ago, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3.
The United States, who have been Davis Cup winners on a record 32 occasions, were 1-1 with in Bogota where they are trying to avoid suffering a first relegation since 1988.
Colombia's Santiago Giraldo overturned a 40-place ranking difference to score a 6-2, 6-4, 7-5 win over world number 21 Sam Querrey after Mardy Fish had given the US the lead with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Alejandro Falla.
In Cairns, 28-time champions Australia were locked at 1-1 with Belgium.
Former world number one Lleyton Hewitt put Australia ahead, overcoming 22-year-old Ruben Bemelmans in scorching conditions in just over three hours 7-6 (7/4), 7-5, 2-6, 6-4.
Olivier Rochus then beat Carsten Ball 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (7/5).
In other play-offs, Brazil were 2-0 ahead over India, Germany were 2-0 up on South Africa while Israel were 2-1 in front against Austria.
Italy and Sweden were 1-1 while Romania looked set for the World Group after opening a 2-0 lead against Ecuador.