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Romania book Fed Cup semi-finals berth
February 11, 2019
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OSTRAVA: A highly anticipated Fed Cup encounter between top 5 players went the way of Romania, as Simona Halep defeated Karolina Pliskova, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, to put her country one match win away from upsetting the defending champion Czech Republic and advancing into the semi-finals of the World Group.

After two closely-contested sets, Halep pulled away at the very end of another tight set to overcome her fellow former World No.1 Pliskova in a gripping two-hour and 37-minute tilt. With her victory on Pliskova’s home soil, Halep avenged a three-set Fed Cup loss to the Czech in Romania in 2016.

Halep needed to serve for the match twice after failing to close at 5-2 in the final set, but got the job done on her second time of asking.

The Romanian had two fewer winners than Pliskova, but the Czech was undone by 62 unforced errors throughout the clash, which was 24 more than the more steady Romanian.

The players exchanged breaks in the first game, but after that, Halep did not face a break point in the rest of the opening frame, while Pliskova faced three break points in her next four service games.

Halep broke through at 4-4, where an error-prone Pliskova dropped serve to give Halep a chance to serve out the set.

At 5-4, Halep quickly raced to triple set point, but fiery forehands by Pliskova pulled the Czech back to deuce. A backhand winner down the line gave Halep a fourth set point, but that too was saved. But a fifth set point came Halep’s way after a series of strong forehands, and Halep finally banked the set there, after a Pliskova backhand flew wide.

Pliskova got off to a hot start in the second set, breaking Halep at love for a 3-1 lead after the Romanian’s backhand went awry. Halep climbed back on serve at 4-3 before Pliskova broke the Romanian once more, to serve for the set at 5-3. However, strong returning by Halep allowed her to break and pull back on serve again.

At 5-5, Pliskova saved three break points before firing a backhand winner to hold for a 6-5 lead. That game proved to be pivotal, as Halep was unable to convert a game point, and then finished two straight points with backhands into the net to let Pliskova level the match at one set apiece.

Halep and Pliskova broke each other to love in the first two games of the decider, as the intensity of the Ostrava arena became palpable. It was Halep who handled the pressure best at first, slamming a backhand winner to break again for 3-2, and then working her way through a protracted game to attain a second break and a 5-2 lead.

Serving for the match, Halep hit a clutch of errors to drop serve. The Romanian held a match point on Pliskova’s serve in the next game, but the Czech survived to hold for 5-4. In the next game, though, Halep was unfazed, and moved to a second match point with an ace. There, a wide forehand return gave Halep a well-earned win.

France, Belarus sail

France and Belarus reached the Fed Cup semi-finals after sweeping their first-round series on Sunday.

In Liege, Caroline Garcia clinched a 3-0 victory for France over host Belgium after easing past Elise Mertens 6-2, 6-3.

The Czechs and Romanians split their opening singles in a series in the Czech city of Ostrava.

In the final doubles match where the outcome couldn’t change the overall result, Victoria Azarenka teamed up with Lidziya Marozava for Belarus to beat Germany’s pair of Mona Barthel and Anna-Lena Groenefeld 6-1, 0-6, 11-9 to win 4-0 overall. The Belarusian team that reached the final in 2017 will face the 2018 finalist United States or Australia in the semis in April.

Agencies

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