Romania beats Canada in Fed Cup World Group play-off
Canada’s bid to keep its place in the Fed Cup World Group for 2016 ended on Sunday with Romania prevailing 3-1 over two days in Montreal.
Alexandra Dulgheru became the star of the tie winning both of her matches, including the clincher on Sunday downing a valiant Francoise Abanda 3-6, 7-5, 6-2. This winning play-off result elevates Romania to the elite World Group next year consisting of the top eight nations in women’s tennis, while Canada will play in World Group II.
Abanda v. Dulgheru
Only 18-years old, Abanda, had to step up on Sunday to keep Canada alive down 2-1, as Eugenie Bouchard was beaten by Andreea Mitu earlier in the day. Abanda was looking for her second upset in 24 hours, having beaten WTA’s 33rd ranked Irina-Camelia Begu on Saturday.
Dulgheru – ranked 69th versus Abanda at number 260 – was the heavy favourite. The Canadian though kept her momentum from the previous day and surprised Dulgheru by breaking her twice to take the opening set 6-3 despite having dropped her first service game.
Abanda had Dulgheru on the run again in the second set winning another service break and consolidating to go up 4-2 on the Romanian. That’s when Dulgheru’s experience, fitness and fight started to overwhelm Abanda. Running down seemingly everything in sight, Dulgheru won five of the next six games, including two service breaks to take the second set 7-5. For Abanda, 27 unforced errors (to just 11 in the first set) and a considerable drop in first serve points further doomed any chance of seeing off the Romanian, leading to a third set.
Each time Abanda took something from Dulgheru, the Romanian got it right back. The third set opened with Dulgheru losing serve and facing a two game deficit down 40-15 in the following game. She clawed back to win the next four points to break Abanda and get back on serve. From there, Abanda would be broken two more times, including on match point to close out the set and Fed Cup tie in Romania’s favour.
Bouchard v. Mitu
With Begu picking up an injury in the previous day’s loss to Abanda, Romania substituted the 104th ranked WTA player, Andreea Mitu in to take on Bouchard.
It was a calculated move to save Begu for the deciding doubles match should the tie go to a fifth rubber. Given Bouchard’s recent for, Romania took a chance on 23-year old Mitu and she repaid the faith of team captain Alina Tecsor by beating the seventh ranked player in the world, Bouchard, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.
“The first set was pretty close, the second set as well,” Bouchard, who lost to Delgheru on Saturday, said post-match. It seemed the Canadian had regained some of the elements that took her to three grand slam semifinals when she held serve three times before breaking Mitu to take a 4-2 lead. Although she was broken in the next game, Bouchard regained her composure and took the opening set 6-4, to great relief from the Canadian support, as she had lost in straight sets the previous day.
But the second set betrayed any progress made in the first. Bouchard lost a service break to start and landed fewer first serves than she had in the opening set, compounded by a noticeable surge in Mitu’s game, particularly her ability to win 63% second serve points. The players traded another break point each, which put the calculation in Mitu’s favour at 6-4, forcing a third set.
“Usually I back myself in those situations and I have that confidence. Today I just felt it slipping away,” Bouchard said looking back at the match.
“I had some frustrating moments on the court. I was a little bit frustrated how well (Mitu) was playing. That’s something that’s out of my control, I shouldn’t let that get to me.”
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened in the final set. Mitu established herself early, wrestling away another opening game from Bouchard. The Romanian won an incredible 91% of her first serve points to just 50% for Bouchard in the final frame and broke the Canadian two more times en route to an emotional set and match point that saw Mitu break down in tears for having given her country a chance to win the tie.
It’s back to the drawing board for Bouchard, who lost her fifth straight match in all competition on Sunday.
“I haven’t sometimes felt like myself on court, especially these past few months,” the Canadian said, after another day of revealing disappointment in just about every facial expression. She is not enjoying herself.
“I just need to keep my head up, keep working and have that inner confidence that I can get through it.”
Bouchard has dropped out of an upcoming tournament in Stuttgart next week to focus on training with her team. She hopes that will help right her season before a busy summer has her defending major runs from last season in Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
“I just want to get back to feeling good on the court… that’s the most important thing. “
In what was undoubtedly the biggest win of her career, 18-year old Francoise Abanda had given Canada a leg up in Fed Cup play, beating Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 in Montreal on Saturday.
However, her win was canceled out by Alexandra Dulgheru beating Eugenie Bouchard 6-4, 6-4 in Saturday’s second match to level the tie at 1-1. Bouchard and Begu are expected to play on Sunday, while Abanda will meet Dulgheru.
Abanda v. Begu
Abanda’s win was a major achievement for the Canadian, ranked 227 places lower than Begu in the WTA singles table. Begu is 33rd in the world, while Abanda looks up from number 260.
But her place in the global standings didn’t seem to matter on Saturday, when Abanda bounced back from an opening set deficit to even the match, before taking the decider as Begu, suddenly hobbled by an injury, began to fade.
Abanda started well, saving a break point on her first service game to win, before taking a 2-0 lead by surprising Begu when the Romanian went on serve. But the more experienced player fought back, broke Abanda twice before winning the first set 6-4.
“I just got it back together,” Abanda said in her on-court interview after the match about her recovery from being down a set. “I’m happy and pleased that I came back to win the match.”
That comeback started in the second set as Abanda stayed composed and defended her first four service games before breaking Begu to take a 5-3 lead. Serving for the set, Abanda couldn’t keep Begu from charging back to regain a step. At 6-5 and Begu serving again, Abanda finally closed out the set 7-5 on an incredible eighth break point of the second frame against the higher ranked Romanian.
“This is only my second Fed Cup. I told myself to block everything out and just focus on my shots and points,” Abanda, who made her tournament debut in February, said of finishing off her opponent in the second set.
Begu received extensive medical attention with what seemed to be a calf injury up a break at 2-1 in the third set. Abanda pounced and broke her opponent in the next game and consolidated for 3-2 lead. As the set went on, the players exchanged three more break points, the final one coming from Abanda as Begu hit wide to wild approval from the Canadian player and her home crowd.
“I always play well in Montreal,” Abanda, who was born and raised in the city, told the audience. “It’s an amazing crowd, my family is here.”
“I was a little bit tired, it took a lot of energy for me to win this. I told myself I wasn’t going to come off the court until I win it.”
Bouchard v. Dulgheru
Abanda’s breakthrough didn’t extend to Bouchard, however, as the top Canadian women’s singles player continued to struggle this season.
The world number seven dropped her fourth consecutive match counting the WTA tour, this one to Dulgheru 6-4, 6-4.
Bouchard committed 42 unforced errors, her performance was nothing like the vintage Davis Cup outings fans and teammates had to come to expect. The Canadian had an 11-2 competition record coming into the contest, including a perfect 4-0 on hard court.
Mistakes haunted Bouchard all day as she hit several shots long, including the last point of the first set that put her on the chase. Bouchard was broken three times in the opener, and although she took two of Dulgheru’s service games, the Canadian never looked comfortable losing 6-4.
The second set had all the inconsistencies and frustrations of the first with Bouchard at one time burying her head in a towel between games, visibly upset with her performance. She showed signs of fight, though it wasn’t enough.
A collection of Bouchard’s recent difficulties were on display in the final game, a 13-minute affair where Dulgheru tried to close out the match up a break. Bouchard fought back from four match points (including three in the last game) but failed to take advantage of three break points to keep the tie going. On the fifth match point another over-hit ball from Bouchard finally gave Dulgheru the set and victory.
Tied at 1-1 in the best-of-five as Canada looks to remain in the World Group of women’s elite international team tennis, matches will resume on Sunday. Should Canada prevail, it will keep its place in the World Group for 2016.