BUCHAREST, ROMANIA: A jubilant Sorana Cirstea emerged as Romania’s Fed Cup hero of a grueling weekend after Sunday’s 63 67(7) 63 win over Bojana Jovanovski gave her country an unassailable 3-1 lead over Serbia in their World Group II play-off.
A sunlit Arenele outdoor complex, packed with passionate Romanian fans, was treated to a vastly entertaining final day which started with Simona Halep completing a 62 64 win over Jovanovski after torrential rain suspended their clash on Saturday with the Romanian 3-1 up in the first set.
That gave Romania a 2-0 lead in the tie before Ana Ivanovic kept Serbia’s challenge alive with a 63 76(2) defeat of Halep, who battled valiantly after a brief respite but eventually ran out of steam against her fired-up opponent.
Finally, Cirstea overpowered Jovanovski in a strength-sapping rollercoaster after she had squandered five match points against the resurgent Serb, two of them when she was 5-2 up in the second set.
The Romanian, who came back from a set down to beat Ivanovic on Saturday, held her nerve in the third set when she came out on top in a long seventh game just as the momentum seemed to have swung in Jovanovski’s favour.
Roared on by the fans, Cirstea dug deep into her resources and produced her best shots when she needed to most, sending a frenetic 4,000 home crowd into raptures. Tennis fans in the Balkan country can now look forward to the realistic possibility of advancing to the competition’s top tier in the near future, with the abundance of talent in their ranks.
The result means Romana completed their promotion to World Group II after winning a third-tier tournament in Budapest to reach the play-offs, while 2012 finalists Serbia have been relegated as they were unable to stop their plunge into the doldrums.
“I am overjoyed to have produced the winning point for Romania and it was even sweeter to bring some joy to our people on Easter Sunday,” a delighted Cirstea told fedcup.com after the match.
“I got a bit ahead of myself when I was 5-2 up in the second set, I was very emotional about playing a Fed Cup match at home for the first time and I had butterflies in my stomach when I should have finished the job.
“But in tennis, as in life, you have to adapt to every situation and I think I handled the pressure well in the third set, so it doesn’t matter that it went to three sets. We are just overjoyed to be back in the World Group after 15 years,” she said.
Romania team captain Alina Cercel-Tecsor added: “I am at a loss for words to describe my feelings and it really is a great accomplishment for us to be back in the World Group. We will hope for some luck in the draw for next season and look forward to the possibility of extending our successful run.”
With Saturday’s grey skies making way for glorious sunshine, Halep carried on where she left off and wrapped up the first set against Jovanovski with punishing baseline shots which had the Serb chasing shadows most of the time and the home fans cheering on the world No.5.
Jovanovski struggled to hold serve throughout the contest but gave herself a fighting chance in the second set when she levelled it at 4-4. However, a stinging forehand winner in the next game swung the match Halep’s way as she retrieved everything Jovanovski threw at her and gave Romania a 2-0 lead.
The exertions took their toll on Halep as she returned barely an hour later to face Ivanovic, who raced into a 2-0 lead before losing her focus and the next three games due to a series of unforced errors.
An exchange of words with Vranes and an angry look at a section of the crowd, where a noise appeared to distract her during a crucial point, seemed to galvanise Ivanovic as she won the next six games to take the first set and carve out a commanding 2-0 lead in the second.
The spectacular clash, garnished by a plethora of winners from all angles and breathtaking resilience from both players, was unrelenting as rivals traded breaks, volleys and powerful backhands like confetti to bring the best out of each other.
The rollercoaster swung either way as Halep still had enough left in her tank to turn the tide and take a 3-2 lead before Ivanovic replied with some masterclass groundstrokes and forays to the net, nosing ahead 5-4.
Roared on by her fans, Halep broke back and after the next two games went with serve, the second set headed into a tie-break where the valiant Romanian finally ran out of steam as Ivanovic capped her brilliant performance with a delightful forehand winner down the line.
Whatever slim hopes Serbia had restored were vanquished after Ivanovic’s close friend Cirstea delivered the final blow.
Having been on the back foot and facing a crushing defeat at 5-2 down in the second set, Jovanovski somehow clawed her way back into the match and threatened to force an even more dramatic climax to a truly enthralling tie in Bucharest.
She clinched a nerve-jangling tie-break in the second and appeared to have gained the upper hand in the third at 3-3 and 40-15 up on her serve, but Cirstea squeezed every last ounce of energy from her ailing body to put the icing on the cake for the Romanians.
Captain Alina Cercel-Tecsor (ROU) - 20/04/2014
Captain Dejan Vranes (SRB) - 20/04/2014
Simona Halep (ROU) - 20/04/2014
Ana Ivanovic (SRB) - 20/04/2014