ROUEN, France – Julien Benneteau, the captain of the French Fed Cup team, believes that Romania has the edge in their semifinal encounter because of the strength of Simona Halep.
The WTA World No.2 is set to be the star name on display in Rouen this weekend, with Mihaela Buzarnescu, Irina-Camelia Begu, Monica Niculescu and Raluca Olaru lining up alongside her for the visiting side.
France, one place above their opponents at No.4 in the Fed Cup Ranking, is anchored by WTA World No.21 Caroline Garcia, and has Kristina Mladenovic, Pauline Parmentier, Alizé Cornet and Fiona Ferro also in its squad.
Home captain Benneteau has been keen to play down expectations against an opponent which has already eliminated defending champion Czech Republic by winning an away tie.
“The strength of Romania is that they have Simona Halep,” he said. “Being World No.2 and a Grand Slam champion shows how strong she is.
“We are slight underdogs in this tie because we’re facing a girl as strong as her, but we’ll try to give our maximum and be competitive this weekend.”
Asked to pinpoint just where the 27-year-old is so formidable, he replied: “She’s a very complete player and has few technical flaws. That’s a bit like the whole Romanian team.
“They all have a very solid technical base and Simona is the perfect example. Her service, her forehand, her backhand, everything she does is tidy. On the court, she's a huge fighter. She has very good court coverage, one of the best fitness levels on the circuit. She makes few errors.
“But there are things in which, fortunately, she has some flaws. You have to get her into situations she does not like. It's going to be my role, that of the staff and the players selected to play against her.”
With this in mind, there were those in France surprised that it elected to play the tie on clay, Halep’s favored surface and the one on which she claimed her maiden Grand Slam title in Paris last year.
“Halep plays well everywhere,” Benneteau said. “Yes, she won at Roland Garros but she’s made semifinals and finals of other Grand Slams. She’s strong on any surface.
“Indoor clay isn’t the same as outdoor clay. I’ve got girls who play well indoors.
“In the indoor clay tournament in Stuttgart, we have had Frenchwomen play well there in the past and the conditions are similar.
“Thinking about the singles particularly, and not thinking about the Romanian team, this is the surface that leaves me the most options because the girls are all very evenly matches on it.
“The girls have agreed it’s the best surface and I think they’ll be right. We’ll see – only the result will tell us.”
France is aiming to win a first Fed Cup since 2003 while Romania is angling to reach the final for the first time.
Whichever side is victorious will face an away match against Australia or Belarus.