Halep, Pliskova off to winning starts

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Simona Halep of Romania celebrates winning her match against Katerina Siniakova of Czech Republic in the Fed Cup at Ostravar Arena, Ostrava, Czech Republic, Saturday. — Reuters

PARIS — Former world number ones Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep won their opening rubbers as the Fed Cup clash between defending champions Czech Republic and Romania ended 1-1 Saturday’s opening day.

Pliskova, her country’s top player in the absence of world No. 2 Petra Kvitova, swept past Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-1, 6-4 before Halep disposed of Katerina Siniakova 6-4, 6-0 to bring Romania level.

The wins set up a mouthwatering clash between Pliskova, ranked five in the world, and number three Halep on the indoor hard courts of Ostrava Sunday.

“I’m excited but I can’t afford to get over-excited,” said Australian Open semifinalist Pliskova, who is hoping to inspire the Czechs to an 11th successive appearance in the last four of the Fed Cup.

Her caution is understandable as she trails Halep 6-2 in career meetings.

However, Pliskova won their last clash on clay in Madrid in 2018 as well as coming out on top in a 2016 Fed Cup World Group clash over three sets.

French Open champion Halep has already vowed to win a first Fed Cup for Romania before she retires, describing it as “the first thing on her bucket list now” having ticked off a maiden Grand Slam crown at Roland Garros last year.

In Liege, two-time champion France dominated Belgium for a 2-0 lead.

Top 20 player Caroline Garcia, returning to the French squad for the first time in two years after a bitter fall-out with teammates following the 2016 final, earned the opening point with a 7-6 (7/2), 4-6, 6-2 win over Alison Van Uytvanck.

“There was a little stress, a little tension,” admitted French No. 1 Garcia.

“But it was the same thing the last time I came back to the team — nothing different, nothing more.”

On the back of an 86-minute first set, Alize Cornet then made it 2-0 by seeing off Belgian number one Elise Mertens 7-6 (8/6), 6-2.

It was Cornet’s first win in the competition in five years as she made a mockery of the 30 places separating her from Mertens in the world rankings.

Belarus, the 2017 runner-up, comfortably moved 2-0 ahead of Germany in Braunschweig with straight sets wins for Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Aryna Sabalenka.

Sasnovich defeated Tatjana Maria 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 before world number nine Sabalenka needed just over an hour to defeat Andrea Petkovic.

The winners of that tie will face either 18-time champion United States, which was runner-up to the Czechs in 2018, or Australia, the Fed Cup victors on seven occasions.

The competition’s two most successful nations were locked at 1-1 in Asheville, North Carolina after Saturday’s opening singles.

Ashleigh Barty extended her Fed Cup winning streak to nine by seeing off Sofia Kenin 6-1, 7-6 (7/2) before world number 17 Madison Keys easily defeated Kimberly Birrell, ranked 157, in straight sets 6-2, 6-2 to pull the United States level. — AFP


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