Haide Romania! Powerhouse Czech Republic Stunned In Fed Cup First Round

Simona Halep and Team Romania (photo: ITF/Martin Sidorjak)

WASHINGTON, February 10, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Romania pulled off a stunning 3-2 victory over the defending Fed Cup by BNP Paribas champion Czech Republic in Ostrava on Sunday night. The history-making victory advanced the Romanians to their first Fed Cup semifinals where they will face France, which defeated Belgium 3-1. In the other half of the Fed Cup draw, Belarus moved into the semifinal round with a 4-0 shutout over Germany and awaits the outcome of the Australia-United States tie.

With the Czech Republic-Romania tie leveled at 2-all, it came down to a winner-take-all doubles rubber. On one side of the net was the World No. 1 doubles team of Katerina Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova. They faced the upstart Romanian team of Irina-Camelia Begu and Monica Niculescu. After splitting the first two sets, the Romanians pushed ahead 5-4 and served it out with Niculescu hitting a crisp volley winner from near the center of the court to win it, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-4. Quickly, they were surrounded by their Romanian teammates and team captain Florin Segarceanu in celebration of what they had just accomplished – a Herculean triumph over the 11-time Fed Cup champions, which had won six titles since 2011.

Entering Sunday at 1-all, Simona Halep gave Romania much to be hopeful for as she defeated Karolina Plikskova, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, in a much-anticipated, epic battle of former World No. 1 players. Halep’s desire to win and her determination were second to none throughout the two hour and 37 minute match before another noisy and mostly pro-Czech crowd gathered inside Ostravar Arena. Despite committing 62 unforced errors, the never-say-die attitude of Pliskova contributed to rubber’s excellence.

“It was a tough match as always – maybe the fighting was the most important thing for me today. I’m so happy to have won against such a tough opponent who’s in such good form, so I think it was a big day for me,” said Halep after securing her rubber that put Romania ahead 2-1.

“It was my biggest and best win in the Fed Cup and to win both rubbers against the Czech Republic means a lot to me because they have such a big history in this competition. It helps me for the future as well as now.”

The intensity of the Halep-Pliskova rubber set the stage for the fourth rubber between Siniakova and Mihaela Buzarnescu. Facing elimination, Siniakova, who contributed two big singles wins in leading the Czech’s to their 3-0 triumph in the 2018 Fed Cup final over the United States, dominated Buzarnescu, 6-4, 6-2, to take the tie into a decisive fifth rubber.

It would take two hours and 53 minutes before Romania pulled off arguably the biggest upset in recent Fed Cup history as Begu (ranked No. 35) and Niculescu (No. 51) took on and ultimately tamed the World No. 1 pair of Siniakova and Krejcikova – marking the first time in a decade that the Czech Republic had failed to reach the Fed Cup last four. It was the 31-year-old Niculescu’s 31st Fed Cup win in her 12th year of competition. Suddenly, the dazed and confused Czech fans went silent and left the arena. Instead, it was the small but proud – and loud – Romanian fans who were left celebrating with Halep leading the dancing ring at the center of the court.

Belarus 4, Germany 0

World No. 9 Aryna Sabalenka showed astute power and a determined focus during her reverse singles rubber against No. 104 Laura Siegemund and rode both attributes to victory as Belarus advanced to the World Group semifinals against the winner of the Australia-United States tie with a surprisingly easy victory over Germany at Volkswagen Halle in Braunschweig.

The 20-year-old Sabalenka’s 6-1, 6-1 victory over Siegemund, 30, who was anointed this weekend as Germany’s No. 1 singles with neither World No. 2 Angelique Kerber or No. 16 Julia Goerges available to play Fed Cup, came in just one hour and 19 minutes. It clinched the tie for Belarus, leading 3-0. The second reverse singles between Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Andrea Petkovic was not played. Then, Victoria Azarenka and Lidziya Marozava of Belarus won the dead rubber doubles over Mona Barthel and Anna-Lena Grönefeld, 6-1, 0-6, 11-9, to complete the tie’s final 4-0 outcome.

“I’m so happy and our team are so happy and it’s an unbelievable result to win … and to win two matches, it’s incredible,” said Sabalenka following her win over Siegemund. Sabalenka hit 19 winners and broke Siegemund five times while forcing the German into 27 hitting errors and 18 unforced errors. She outpointed Siegemund 69-47.

“I didn’t take my chances,” Siegemund admitted after her loss. “I had a few, but at the moment she plays so aggressive and solid that it’s really hard. When you get chances you get them once and then you feel sometimes pressure that you have to do it now and you start to rush it a little bit, maybe. I think she’s just a very good player.”

France 3, Belgium 1

France stormed into the Country Hall du Sart-Tillman in Liege and took care of business against Belgium. The French earned their fourth Fed Cup berth in five years riding on the racquet of Caroline Garcia, who beat Elise Mertens, 6-2, 6-3, in the deciding third rubber that clinched the tie for France 3-0. Later, the Belgians won the dead rubber doubles for the final 3-1 tie score.

After her three-set win over Belgium’s Alison Van Uytvanck on Saturday, the No. 19 Garcia made quick work over No. 21 Mertens – needing just 77 minutes – in a battle of No. 1s. Garcia broke Mertens three times in five opportunities and caused her opponent to commit 23 unforced errors. It added up to a successful Fed Cup debut for new French team captain Julien Benneteau.

“I knew it would be a difficult match, even when I won the first set 6-2, I was ready for a comeback and for her to play better, because she’s a great player, a great fighter on court. But I kept focused and I was able to play very solid,” Garcia said after her victory. Her win over Mertens improved her Fed Cup win-loss record to 10-4 in singles and 15-5 overall.

“I had to stay focused because everybody was already jumping around – in that last game it got 10 times noisier than the whole weekend,” said Garcia, who finished with 12 winners and just 12 unforced errors. “But I have experience in Fed Cup, and I tried to manage the best I can, focus one point at a time.”