ROUEN, France (Reuters) – Caroline Garcia kept her composure to beat Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-3 6-3 and bring France level at 1-1 with Romania in their Fed Cup semi-final after Simona Halep outclassed Kristina Mladenovic 6-3 6-1 in the opening singles on Saturday.
Garcia produced a rock-solid performance to dismantle the challenge of Buzarnescu in one hour, 27 minutes on the clay surface in the Normandy city of Rouen as two-time champions France bid for their sixth final.
France captain Julien Benneteau opted for Mladenovic ahead of higher-ranked Pauline Parmentier and Alize Cornet for the opening clash against world number two Halep.
World number 66 Mladenovic, however, struggled with her serve and failed to cope with Halep’s more varied attacking style, racking up 35 unforced errors.
“It was really difficult to start the match because of the emotions,” reigning Roland Garros champion Halep said. “It was really tough to start the game, to start the tie.”
The Romanians, aiming for their maiden Fed Cup final after upsetting defending champions Czech Republic in an epic quarter-final in Ostrava, won their only previous Fed Cup tie against France in 1976.
“I’m really happy with the way I played in the second set,” Halep added. “It was much better. It’s difficult to play against Kristina because she cuts the rhythm and I couldn’t find my rhythm.
“In the end, I felt much better, and I can say I was dominating.”
After Sunday’s reverse singles, Garcia and Mladenovic are expected to team up to face Irina-Camelia Begu and Monica Niculescu in the doubles. The other semi-final pits Australia against Belarus, who are also level at 1-1 after their opening singles matches.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; editing by Tony Lawrence)