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 mouth-watering 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 following the 2016 final, earned the opening point with a 7-6 (7/2), 4-6, 6-2 win over Alison Van Uytvanck.
“There was a little stress, a little tension,” admitted French number one Garcia.
“But it was the same thing the last time I came back to the team – nothing different, nothing more.”
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.
It was Cornet’s first win in the competition in five years as she made a mockery of the 30 places separating her from Mertens in the world rankings.
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.
The competition’s two most successful nations were locked at 1-1 in Asheville, North Carolina after Saturday’s opening singles.
Ashleigh Barty extended her Fed Cup winning streak to nine by seeing off Sofia Kenin 6-1, 7-6 (7/2) before world number 17 Madison Keys easily defeated Kimberly Birrell, ranked 157, in straight sets 6-2, 6-2 to pull the United States level.