STUTTGART, Germany – Unable to draw on the strength of the Williams sisters, the United States failed to win a single match against Germany and was knocked from the top tier of the Fed Cup for the first time.
The Americans were blanked 5-0 in the playoff and will no longer be among the top eight nations in the World Group, a big letdown for a country that has won the Fed Cup a record 17 times.
Germany delivered the decisive blow when Andrea Petkovic beat Melanie Oudin 6-2, 6-3 in the first of Sunday's reverse singles. That gave the Germans an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the best-of-five series and a spot in the elite group of women's team tennis.
"It's tough to be out of the World Group for the first time, but we just came up against a better team," U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez said. "We did the best we could, we fought for every point and that's all you can do, do your best on the court."
"It was a tough weekend but you have to give credit to whole German team," she added. "They played great. There were moments, small chances, but there weren't that many opportunities for us."
In the semifinals of the World Group, the Czech Republic defeated Belgium in the deciding doubles for a 3-2 victory in Charleroi, Belgium, and Russia completed a 5-0 rout of Italy in Moscow. Russia will host the Czech Republic in the finals Nov. 5-6.
In other playoffs for the 2012 World Group, France was relegated after falling 4-1 to host Spain, Ukraine won 3-2 at Australia 3-2 and visiting Serbia beat Slovakia 3-2.
Germany won the last singles match when Sabine Lisicki beat Christina McHale 6-3, 6-4. Julia Goerges and Anna-Lena Groenefeld completed the sweep with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 doubles victory over Vania King and Liezel Huber.
"I never won a clinching match before," said Petkovic, the highest-ranked player in the series at No. 19. "I believe that Germany belongs to the top group and I am really pleased that I won the point. I am very relieved. It may have looked easy but it wasn't a given."
The Americans were Fed Cup runners-up in the last two years, losing both times to Italy. This time, they were clearly hurt by the absence of the Williams sisters.
Venus Williams, who hasn't represented the U.S. in four years, watched from the stands at Porsche Arena. She has a hip injury and has been sidelined since the Australian Open. But by appearing in Germany, Williams becomes eligible for the 2012 London Games. Players are to make themselves available for the Fed Cup to play in the Olympics.
Serena Williams, who also hasn't played for the U.S. since 2007, has been out since Wimbledon because of two operations on her foot and a blood clot in her lungs. In addition, the U.S. team lost Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who would have been its top player, to a hip injury.
"I must say the Americans were not at full strength, but the Williams sisters have not played for a while and they were still in the last two finals," Petkovic said.
The 19-year-old Oudin and 18-year-old McHale lost their opening singles Saturday. On Sunday, the pressure fell to Oudin, with the U.S. relegated if she lost.
"I tried not to think about it, but it was extra weight on my shoulder," she said.
Petkovic broke serve for a 3-2 lead and cruised from there in the first set. Oudin dropped serve in the first game of the second set, then double-faulted to go down 3-0. The American lost the next game before winning the next three. But Petkovic persevered and hit a forehand winner to seal Germany's victory.
"I was really on the run for seven, eight games, I was feeling the ball well but you have to mix it up with her," Petkovic said. "I was playing clever, opening up the court."
Oudin said Petkovic was more comfortable with the surface.
"I definitely started well, but after I lost my serve the first time, she took her game to another level," Oudin said. "Also, it's my first week on red clay while she grew up on it."