PRAGUE: Champions France stumbled at the first hurdle as they lost to Canada in their opening tie of the maiden Billie Jean King Cup final tournament in Prague on Monday. The 2019 Fed Cup champions and the top seeds of its rebranded version have to beat a strong Russian team on Wednesday to keep their hopes of making the play-offs alive. Belgium, Spain and the Czech Republic started the tournament with wins, securing an advantage ahead of the second and final ties in the three-member groups. France’s Fiona Ferro lost the opening rubber to world number 353 Francoise Abanda 6-4, 4-6, 4-6. Alize Cornet levelled the score by edging Rebecca Marino 6-4, 7-6 (7/5) but then lost the decisive doubles rubber alongside Clara Burel 3-6, 6-7 (6/8) at the hands of Gabriela Dabrowski and Marino. Canada were a late addition to the tournament, replacing Hungary after Budapest passed on the hosting rights to Prague. In the other afternoon tie, Belgium won both singles to beat Belarus 2-1 in Group B. Belgium’s Greet Minnen first eased past Irina Shymanovich 6-2, 6-2 in the opening rubber. Elise Mertens added a second point when she overpowered Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-2, 4-6, 6-2. Sasnovich and Vera Lapko then won a consolation point for Belarus as they beat Mertens and Kirsten Flipkens 6-4, 6-3. Czechs saved by veteran: Hosts the Czech Republic, who won six of the last nine Fed Cup editions, edged Germany after Marketa Vondrousova first swept Andrea Petkovic 6-1, 6-3. In a roller-coaster rubber pitting the highest ranking players of the tournament, world number nine Angelique Kerber edged third-ranked Barbora Krejcikova 6-7 (5/7), 6-0, 6-4. “We both played a great match on a really high level. It was just one, two points which decided the match,” Kerber said after the 136-minute epic. “Of course it’s always an honour to play for Germany so I always try to give my best,” she added. “I gave it a hundred percent and I think there’s nothing I should be ashamed of,” said Krejcikova, this year’s French Open champion. Thirty-six-year-old Lucie Hradecka then replaced Krejcikova next to her usual doubles partner Katerina Siniakova, and the Czech duo won the decisive doubles rubber against Anna-Lena Friedsam and Jule Niemeier 6-4, 6-7 (2/7), 10/8. Lacking Garbine Muguruza and Paula Badosa, Spain had a hard time facing Slovakia, but they finally prevailed 2-1 owing to Sara Sorribes Tormo. In the first rubber, Slovakia’s Viktoria Kuzmova beat Carla Suarez Navarro, who is winding up her career in Prague, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. Sorribes Tormo levelled after edging Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, and together with Suarez Navarro they outdid Kuzmova with Tereza Mihalikova 4-6, 6-2, 10/7 in the doubles.