Halep Levels Tie For Romania, Sets Up Sunday Showdown With Czech’s Pliskova

Simona Halep (photo: ITF/Martin Sidorjak)

WASHINGTON, February 9, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Simona Halep scored a crushing 6-4, 6-0 victory over Katerina Siniakova to level Romania’s tie 1-1 against defending Fed Cup by BNP Paribas champion Czech Republic as the first round of World Group play began across Europe and the United States on Saturday.

Elsewhere, Belarus took a commanding 2-0 lead against host Germany and France won both of its opening rubbers on the road against Belgium. Australia faced the United States in a late tie in Asheville, North Carolina.

As the Romania-Czech Republic tie unfolded, the third-ranked Halep played like she was on a mission to do everything to dethrone the host Czechs at Ostrava. Her emphatic play against the No. 44 Siniakova not only evened the tie at 1-all, it also silenced the cacophony of noise from the boisterous pro-Czech crowd inside Ostravar Arena. Although Siniakova saved five set points in the opening stanza, she garnered just 10 points during the rest of the way as Halep gained momentum and broke her opponent three straight times to close out the 71-minute rubber. It was Halep’s sixth consecutive Fed Cup match win and 17th overall.

“I think I played good tennis, and did what I had to against her,” Halep said following her win over Siniakova. “It was difficult emotionally, because this is Fed Cup and it always feels different. She’s a difficult opponent, with her flat hitting and you can’t read the serve that easy, but in the end I got the timing.”

Halep’s victory set up a highly-anticipated showdown against fifth-ranked Katerina Pliskova on Sunday in a battle of former No. 1 players in the first rubber of the reverse singles.

“I expect a very tough one,” said Halep. “It’s Fed Cup. So, the pressure is more but it’s an open match and I think tomorrow, I’ll fight for that chance and I’ll be motivated, playing for my country.”

Earlier, Pliskova was dominant in her 6-1, 6-4 victory over No. 29 Mihaela Buzarnescu that took just 85 minutes to wrap up. It included a nine-minute opening game in which Pliskova held serve after facing a couple of break points. Pliskova fired six aces and hit 17 winners, including 16 from her forehand side. She outpointed Buzarnescu 74-56.

“Of course, I’m excited, but I can’t afford to get over-excited,” said Pliskova, after her win put the Czechs ahead 1-0. Halep owns a 6-2 career head-to-head advantage against Pliskova. “Six-two is fine; the match starts from zero-zero,” she said. “So, there’s going to be a chance for both of us, never mind what happened in the past. I just have it in my head that I beat her (in the Fed Cup three years ago) when we won.”

Pliskova admitted during her post-match presser that her win over Buzarnescu “wasn’t my best Fed Cup game but it was solid, for sure. I thought I’d play worse today because my training had not been the best. I was struggling with timing and hadn’t played Fed Cup for a while, so I was a little bit nervous.”

In other World Group ties:

Belarus 2, Germany 0

Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Aryna Sabalenka powered Belarus to a pair of straight-set wins over Germany at Volkswagen Halle in Braunschweig, Germany. First, the No. 33 Sasnovich defeated No. 67 Tatjana Maria, 7-6 (3), 6-3, in one hour and 38 minutes. Then, the ninth-ranked Sabalenka completed a near-perfect win over No. 68 Andrea Petkovic, 6-2, 6-1. She fired eight aces, hit 23 winners and broke Petkovic four times in 12 tries. Germany is playing without either World No. 2 Angelique Kerber or No. 16 Julia Goerges.

“I was very nervous in the beginning because you play for your country and you want to win very much,” said Sasnovich. “But I’m happy that I won that match and in the second set I think I show not bad tennis, but I think I can do better.”

Meanwhile, after her loss, Petrovic gave an honest assessment of her rubber against Sabalenka. She said, “I really think she almost played the perfect match. She rolled over me and was just better in each and every department of the game today, although my strengths I couldn’t even play out, because it never really came to rallies and physicality and all the things I bring to the table. She just was so good on the first two shots, she returned and served really well and it was just a great match played by her.”

Now, Belarus needs just a single point in the final three rubbers to advance to the semifinal round against either Australia or the United States.

France 2, Belgium 0

Playing in her first Fed Cup competition since 2016, Caroline Garcia lifted France to an early lead over Belgium. The No. 19 Garcia beat No. 50 Alison Van Uytvanck, 7-6 (2), 4-6, 6-2, at the Country Hall du Sart-Tilman in Liege, Belgium. Then, No. 51 Alize Cornet upset No. 21 Elise Mertens, 7-6 (6), 6-2, for her first Fed Cup victory in five years to move the French to within one point of advancing to the semifinal round against the Czech Republic-Romania winner.