Romania always looked to have one of the strongest squads at this week’s Europe/Africa Zone Group I matches and duly completed the win over Great Britain here tonight that ensured they would win Pool B. On Sunday they will meet Ukraine or Austria to decide who will go through to a play-off for a place in next year’s World Group II.
For the second round in a row Romania had to win a concluding doubles, but in the end they were convincing winners. Hungary, who brought some cheer to home supporters when they beat Latvia 2-1, will face Britain on Saturday in a match to decide second place.
The afternoon had started off promisingly for Britain when Heather Watson, the world No. 162, enjoyed one of her best victories by beating the world No. 26, Sorana Cirstea, 67(7) 61 64.
That placed great pressure on Simona Halep, who had lost to Hungary’s Timea Babos two days earlier. However, the world No. 10 rose to the challenge, beating Johanna Konta 61 64.
Halep might have won even more quickly, but failed to convert three match points at 5-2. However, Konta was broken to love when she served at 4-5, Halep sealing her win with successive forehand and backhand winners.
“It was a bit more pressure for me because Sorana had lost,” Halep said afterwards. “I also wanted to make my point because of what happened two days ago. I just wanted to play aggressively and play my game.”
In the doubles Irina-Camelia Begu and Monica Niculescu had too much experience for Watson and Jocelyn Rae, winning 60 62. The Britons failed to convert break points when leading 1-0 in the second set and the Romanians quickly regained control.
Alina Cercel-Tecsor, the Romania captain, said of her doubles team: “They really wanted to win. They hadn’t played together this year and it was good that they had played against Hungary. They needed a set to get used to each other.”
The captain was proud of Halep. “When you are top 10 or top 20 everyone expects you to win,” she said. “Simona was under pressure.”
Judy Murray, Britain’s captain, had always expected Romania to provide their biggest challenge. She said it had been “a really big ask” for Konta to take on Halep, while Watson and Rae had faced a very experienced pair. “We lost the first set very quickly in the doubles, but we got the tactics right and had a lot of opportunities in the second,” she said.
Murray thought that Watson’s victory over Cirstea proved that the 21-year-old was almost back to her best after a difficult 2013.
Watson won despite a first set in which she had trailed 5-3 after dropping serve in the opening game and lost a tense tie-break 9-7. Watson quickly took charge of the second set, during which Cirstea sought treatment for a leg problem. The third set saw some excellent play from both women, with Watson’s aggression the key.
The match turned on a controversial moment when Watson served at 3-3 and 40-40 in the decider. The Briton missed her first serve and the second barely reached the net because the ball had been damaged. The umpire ruled that the point should be replayed. The Romanians made prolonged protests and called for the referee, Mihaela Testiban, who backed the official.
Watson, who went on to hold serve and win the match, said afterwards: “I was bouncing the ball [before my serve] and I remember thinking: ‘Wow, this court is so slow that the ball isn’t even bouncing back up to me.’ I served the ball and it hardly reached the net. I picked it up, squeezed it and it was completely broken.”
Hungary’s match against Latvia went to a deciding doubles after Babos was surprisingly beaten 62 64 by Diana Marcinkevica, the world No 216. Reka-Luca Jani had won the opening rubber, beating Jelena Ostapenko 60 64, and teamed up with Babos for the doubles. To the delight of a noisy home crowd Jani and Babos beat Marcinkevica and Ostapenko 75 36 61.
“It was hard to come back on the court after losing my singles,” Babos admitted afterwards. “I didn't feel that I played badly. I tried everything, but I was unlucky. I put all my energies into the doubles.”
The Netherlands and Belarus, who already knew they would be facing each other on Sunday after topping Pools A and D respectively, continued their winning ways.
Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Olga Govortsova both won their singles in straight sets against Bulgaria. Sasnovich came flying out of the blocks, beating Borislava Botusharova 61 63. Govortsova then beat Viktoriya Tomova 63 64, though she made a slow start and sent for the doctor when leading 4-3 in the second set.
“I didn’t feel very well,” Govortsova explained afterwards. “I think it’s a little bit humid today because I’ve been sweating more than I did on other days. It’s good that we have a day off tomorrow.”
Kiki Bertens and Richel Hogenkamp have been equally impressive and the two Dutch players dropped just six games between them against Luxembourg. Bertens beat Tiffany Cornelius 61 61, while Hogenkamp beat Sharon Pesh 63 61.
Hogenkamp said: “I think it’s good to have a match today because yesterday we had a day off and tomorrow we have a day off again. I wanted to play, even though it was not important for the group.”
Belgium secured second place in Pool A by beating Croatia 3-0. Alison van Uytvanck beat Tereza Mrdeza 64 16 62 before Yanina Wickmayer defeated Donna Vekic 63 62. Wickmayer’s experience was crucial as the Belgian No 1 pulled Vekic from one side of the court to the other.
Luxembourg finished bottom of the group and now face a play-off on Sunday against Bulgaria, who prop up Pool D. The losers will be relegated to Europe/Africa Zone Group Two.
Portugal secured second place in Pool D thanks to a 2-1 victory over Turkey, who won the first rubber when Ipek Soylu beat Barbara Luz 76 62 in a match full of long baseline rallies. Michelle Larcher de Brito levelled the tie by beating Cagla Buyukakcay 64 63 to take the contest into a deciding doubles.
Buyukakcay and Pemra Ozgen took the first set, but Larcher de Brito and Luz played a more attacking game in the second and third sets as they sought to dominate the net. As the Turks faded, their opponents took control to win 26 63 63.
Olgo Govortsova (BLR) - 07/02/2014
Captain Tatiana Poutchek (BLR) - 07/02/2014
Richel Hogenkamp (NED) - 07/02/2014
Heather Watson (GBR) - 07/02/2014
Sorana Cirstea (ROU) - 07/02/2014
Simona Halep (ROU) - 07/02/2014
Captain Alina Cercel-Tecsor (ROU) - 07/02/2014
Captain Judy Murray (GBR) - 07/02/2014