PARIS: Former world number ones Karolina Pliskova and Simona Halep won their opening rubbers as the Fed Cup clash between defending champions Czech Republic and Romania ended 1-1 on Saturday’s opening day.
Pliskova, her country’s top player in the absence of world number two Petra Kvitova, swept past Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-1, 6-4 before Halep disposed of Katerina Siniakova 6-4, 6-0 to bring Romania level.
The wins set up a mouthwatering clash between Pliskova, ranked five in the world, and number three Halep on the indoor hard courts of Ostrava on Sunday.
“I’m excited but I can’t afford to get over-excited,” said Australian Open semi-finalist Pliskova, who is hoping to inspire the Czechs to an 11th successive appearance in the last four of the Fed Cup.
Her caution is understandable as she trails Halep 6-2 in career meetings.
However, Pliskova won their last clash on clay in Madrid in 2018 as well as coming out on top in a 2016 Fed Cup World Group clash over three sets.
French Open champion Halep has already vowed to win a first Fed Cup for Romania before she retires, describing it as “the first thing on her bucket list now” having ticked off a maiden Grand Slam crown at Roland Garros last year.
In Liege, two-time champions France dominated Belgium for a 2-0 lead.
Top 20 player Caroline Garcia, returning to the French squad for the first time in two years after a bitter fall-out with teammates, earned the opening point with a 7-6 (7/2), 4-6, 6-2 win over Alison Van Uytvanck.
On the back of an 86-minute first set, Alize Cornet then made it 2-0 by seeing off Belgian number one Elise Mertens 7-6 (8/6), 6-2.
Belarus, the 2017 runners-up, comfortably moved 2-0 ahead of Germany in Braunschweig with straight sets wins for Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Aryna Sabalenka.
Sasnovich defeated Tatjana Maria 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 before world number nine Sabalenka needed just over an hour to defeat Andrea Petkovic.
The winners of that tie will face either 18-time champions United States, who were runners-up to the Czechs in 2018, or Australia, the Fed Cup victors on seven occasions.
They meet in Asheville, North Carolina later Saturday.