BUCHAREST, ROMANIA: Romania made the first step in ensuring continued progress towards the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas top tier after Sorana Cirstea overpowered Ana Ivanovic 36 61 62 to give them a 1-0 against Serbia in their World Group II play-off in the rain-swept Arenele complex.
Bad weather halted the second singles rubber, in which Simona Halep took a 3-1 lead against Bojana Jovanovski in the opening set before the downpour sent fans, officials and players running for cover.
The provisional schedule for Sunday’s action will see Romania’s world No. 5 Halep and Jovanovski resume their clash at 1000 local time (0700 GMT), with the home team’s top-ranked player also due to face Ivanovic in the opening reverse singles before Cirstea meets Jovanovski.
Romania’s Monica Niculescu and Irina-Camelia Begu were nominated to play Nina Stojanovic and Jovana Jaksic in the doubles.
Cirstea put Romania in the driving seat with a gutsy win over the more fancied Ivanovic after the Serb drew first blood in front of her opponent’s partisan 4,000 Bucharest crowd, many of whom sported national flags in the neat and colourful Arenel outdoor venue.
Having kept Cirstea on the back foot with stinging baseline shots early on, Ivanovic romped to a 3-0 lead before the Romanian broke back to reduce the deficit to 3-2 and prompt cheers from the noisy home fans.
But the former world No.1 kept her composure and broke straight back to retrieve the cushion and then saved five break points in the final game of the opening set, holding her nerve at crunch moments much to the delight of Captain Dejan Vranes and a vociferous Serbian bench.
But that was as good as it got for Ivanovic, as Cirstea came back a different player and turned the tie on its head with a barrage of unstoppable shots in the second and third sets.
The Romanian raced into a 4-0 lead in the second and although Ivanovic broke in the next game as a light drizzle descended on the red clay, Cirstea clinched the set shortly afterwards with the Serb’s brief fightback turning out to be nothing more than a flash in the pan.
It seemed the frenetic home fans would be in for a thriller as games went with serve in the opening four games of the third set, but the unstoppable Cirstea then seemed to move up two gears after Ivanovic committed a pair of successive double faults to hand her the initiative.
Cirstea romped through the next two games with punishing baseline shots to run Ivanovic ragged along the baseline, hammering her shots into the corners with laser-beam precision past her weary opponent.
Ivanovic gave herself a glimmer of hope of staying in the match when she carved out five break points while trailing 5-2 in the third set, but Cirstea again fought back valiantly and capped a memorable comeback with an ace to put the icing on the cake and send the home fans into raptures.
“Sorana played very well today and deserved her win, although I didn’t have enough time to train and prepare for the match after changing several time zones and the surface,” Ivanovic told a press conference after the match.
“I was on top in the first set but didn’t move well enough in the other two. It’s always hard playing against a close friend but she is a wonderful girl and I am really happy for her. We are both young and I am sure we will play a lot of times against each other in the future.”
Cirstea added: “It took me a bit of time to adjust to the unfamiliar situation of playing at home in front of so many fans. I was nervous in the opening set but I am really happy that I was able to get back into the match and put my country ahead in this tie. The fans were amazing and I really want to thank them for their incredible support.”
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Sorana Cirstea (ROU) - 19/04/2014
Ana Ivanovic (SRB) - 19/04/2014
Captain Alina Cercel-Tecsor (ROU) - 19/04/2014
Captain Dejan Vranes (SRB) - 19/04/2014