CLUJ-NAPOCA, Romania - World No.1 Simona Halep withstood a mid-match surge from a streaking Viktorija Golubic to give Romania an opening victory on home soil in the first match of day one of its Fed Cup World Group Playoff tie against Switzerland, 6-3, 1-6, 6-1.
The Romanian was not only playing her first Fed Cup tie holding the World No.1 ranking, but had the added pressure of being the star that 8,000 fans at the Sala Polivalenta came to see.
“It was really tough to start the match after that ceremony,” Halep told reporters after the match, per fedcup.com. “That was amazing, and never happened until now. I love it, I’m happy to feel it - you never have this during tournaments, just the two days here in Cluj. It’s something huge, but it’s tough to control.”
After taking a one-set lead despite falling behind an early break, Halep was put on her heels by inspired play from the Swiss, who routinely used her variety and forecourt game to come out on top in drawn-out points.
However, Halep quickly reasserted her authority on the match by toughing out a break in Golubic's first service game of the decider, and earned victory in one hour, and 45 minutes.
Romanian No.2 Irina-Camelia Begu made it a sweep for the home team on the first day of play, as she pulled away from Timea Bacsinszky in the second set, 6-4, 6-1.
Alongisde the Romanians, favored Belgium took a 2-0 lead over Italy in Genoa, while the other two playoff ties between Australia and the Netherlands, and Belarus and Slovakia were even at 1-1 following the first day of play.
Belgium leads Italy, 2-0 (Genoa, Italy)
Heavily-favored Belgium took the lead over Italy on the road with a pair of contrasting victories, as Elise Mertens defeated Jasmine Paolini in straight sets before Alison van Uytvanck battled for two hours and 43 minutes to see off Sara Errani.
After a dominant opening set, Mertens needed to save set point before defeating Paolini in the first match, 6-1, 7-5, while van Uytvanck saw a match point pass her by in the second set before winning, 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-2.
“She tried to find a different game in the second set, but I’m happy that I pulled through that I kept fighting," said the recent Ladies' Open Lugano champion Mertens to reporters after the match, per fedcup.com's Tumaini Carayol.
The World No.17 added: "You play for you country so you can [do] a little bit more. It’s in a team, and you play for the girls who are in your country so it’s something special. I’m happy. I don’t really feel I’m in a leader position...we’re all even and we’re good with each other so it’s a team sport this week.”
Australia vs. Netherlands - 1-1 (Wollongong, Australia)
Australian No.1 Ashleigh Barty restored order for host Australia with a dominant 6-0, 6-2 win over Quirine Lemoine, pulling her team level with the Netherlands after the first day of play.
The World No.19 needed to make a statement as World No.210 Lesley Kerkhove scored a surprise victory over former US Open champion Samantha Stosur in the first match, 7-5, 7-6(1), from 1-4 down in the first set.
“It’s my first time singles in Fed Cup, so it’s a great feeling, I never felt this way, but it’s amazing,’’ Kerkhove told reporters after the match, per fedcup.com's Linda Pearce.
The Dutchwoman's three previous Fed Cup matches had dead doubles rubbers - the most recent of which saw her and Demi Schuurs defeat the Williams sisters in Serena's first match after her return from the birth of her daughter.
“I think I was more nervous in the match of the Williams sisters, so I think it was a good experience to play first the doubles, and not a singles.’’
Belarus vs. Slovakia - 1-1 (Minsk, Belarus)
Despite a late substitution thanks to an ilness by recent Copa Clar, the underdog Slovaks ended day one even at 1-1 with last year's runner-ups, Belarus, in Minsk.
World No.106 Viktoria Kuzmova pulled the visitors level with a 6-2, 2-6, 7-6(5) win over World No.47 Aryna Sabalenka in a clash of teenagers, after Aliaksandra Sasnovich defeated Jana Cepelova in straight sets to open the day for the hosts.
Cepelova was a late substitution for the nominated Anna Karolina Schmiedlova due to illness, but the World No.116 held a 3-0 head-to-head advantage over her Belarusian foe coming into the match.
Sasnovich earned herself a thrilling escape in the second set as Cepelova looked to push the match to a decider, as she won six straight games from a 1-5 deficit to secure the win in two sets.