ROUEN, France — World No.2 Simona Halep put her squad one match away from advancing to their very first Fed Cup final, after she outlasted Caroline Garcia in an epic 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-4 encounter to give Romania a 2-1 lead over France in their Fed Cup World Group semifinal tie.
Halep had won five of her six previous meetings against Garcia, but the reigning Roland Garros champion was greatly challenged by the World No.21 on the clay courts of Rouen. Halep, however, stayed steely down the stretch to slide past Garcia after a grueling two hours and 57 minutes of play.
Garcia used her fabulous forehand to hang with Halep, blasting 28 of her 40 winners from that side. Halep, however, claimed six of her eight break points, while Garcia was a less successful 4-of-13 when she had break opportunities. Moreover, Garcia was undone by 59 unforced errors, which was 26 more than Halep’s miscue total.
In the first set, Garcia got off to a flying start, completely dominating the opening stages to take a 4-0 lead on the World No.2. However, Halep’s groundstroke prowess kicked into high gear at that juncture, and the Romanian pulled all the way back to 4-4. Halep then used strong returns to win a fifth straight game and go up a break for the first time.
Serving for the set, though, Halep faltered from 30-0 up, double faulting to give Garcia a glimmer of hope in the game, then watching as Garcia powered shots through the court to lead to a break for 5-5. Garcia then held for 6-5 with a wily dropshot as the Frenchwoman took another turn to lead in the set.
Garcia held two set points at 6-5 before Halep scratched out a service hold to queue up a tiebreak. In the tight breaker, Halep moved to a set point of her own with a forehand winner at 5-5, but aggressive play by Garcia let her win her two service points and lead 7-6. Halep punched a backhand into the net on Garcia’s third set point, and France had a set in the bag.
Halep started the second set with a streak of her own, racing to a 3-0 lead. However, the Garcia forehand resumed its ferocity, and the Frenchwoman leveled the set at 3-3. Halep, though, put herself in prime position once again, as a down-the-line backhand by the Romanian finally pierced exceptional Garcia defense to attain a crucial break for 5-3.
Serving for the second set, Halep was forced to battle out of a 0-30 hole before maneuvering to two set points with winning down-the-line backhands. Garcia saved both, but a third set point came Halep’s way after a long return by the Frenchwoman, and Halep converted that chance with a forehand winner down the line.
The players moved into the decider, where Halep was forced to save break points in her first two service games before gritting out holds. Another tense service game for the Romanian was closed out with two forehand winners as she held for 4-4.
Finally, Halep claimed the initial break of the final set, taking Garcia’s serve for a 5-4 lead with a forehand winner on the sideline on break point. Garcia’s forehand helped her get to 15-30 at match game, but Halep would not be denied, and blasted through the final three points of the tilt to close out a tremendous victory.
More to follow….