PARIS: Romania reached the Fed Cup semi-finals for the first time on Sunday with a 3-2 win over defending champions Czech Republic as Irina-Camelia Begu and Monica Niculescu stunned Wimbledon and French Open winners Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova in a marathon doubles decider.
Begu and Niculescu triumphed 6-7 (2/7), 6-4, 6-4 in a thrilling rubber in Ostrava which lasted just seven minutes short of three hours.
Krejcikova and Siniakova, the world’s leading pair, trailed a break early in the final set before hitting back to 4-4.
But the Romanian pair broke straight back for 5-4 before Begu, ranked at 35 in doubles, served out the tie.
The result ended the 10-time champions Czechs’ hopes of making the Fed Cup semi-finals for an 11th successive year and represented their first home defeat in a decade.
Earlier, Simona Halep won the battle of the former world number ones with an epic 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 triumph over Karolina Pliskova, the Czechs’ highest-ranked player in the absence of world number three Petra Kvitova.
“I am happy to have won against such a tough opponent,” said Halep after winning her second singles of the weekend. “It was my best and biggest win in the Fed Cup.”
Siniakova, who won both her singles rubbers in the 2018 final triumph over the United States, pulled the Czechs level by seeing off Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-4, 6-2.
French Open champion Halep had said that winning a first Fed Cup for Romania was now the top priority on her “bucket list” having finally broken her Grand Slam drought in Paris last year.
Romania will now travel to France in April’s semi-finals while the other last-four clash sees Belarus up against Australia.
In Liege, Caroline Garcia crowned her comeback from a two-year Fed Cup exile by leading France past Belgium and into a fourth semi-final in five years.
French number one Garcia brushed aside Belgium’s top player Elise Mertens 6-2, 6-3 to follow her opening day three-set win over Alison Van Uytvanck.
Her win gave two-time champions France an unassailable 3-0 lead in the tie before Belgium grabbed a consolation point in the dead doubles rubber.
“Two years is not that long in a tennis career,” said Garcia who opted out of the Fed Cup in 2017 following an ugly public spat with her teammates.
“But I always said that I would come back and that it was important to me.”
At Asheville, North Carolina, won in both singles and doubles as Australia edged the 18-time champion United States 3-2 in a tie that came down to the wire.
Barty notched up a 10th successive win in the tournament by seeing off Madison Keys 6-4, 6-1 to give Australia a 2-1 lead.
Danielle Collins levelled the tie when the Australian Open semi-finalist, making her Fed Cup debut, saw off Daria Gavrilova 6-1, 3-6, 6-2.
Barty then teamed with Priscilla Hon to beat Collins and Nicole Melichar 6-4, 7-5 in the decisive doubles.
Belarus coasted into the semi-finals when world number nine Aryna Sabalenka defeated Laura Siegemund 6-1, 6-1 for an unassailable 3-0 lead over Germany in Braunschweig.
“I am so happy and our team is so happy. It’s unbelievable to win,” said the 20-year-old Sabalenka who dropped just five games in four sets all weekend.
The semi-finals take place on the weekend of April 20-21.