Fed Cup semifinal: Australia, Belarus level after first day

Ashleigh Barty beat Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 7-6 (2), 6-3 to level their Fed Cup semifinal at 1-1 (Reuters/File Photo)

Australian Ashleigh Barty beat Victoria Azarenka of Belarus 7-6 (2), 6-3 to level their Fed Cup semifinal at 1-1 after the opening day of singles on Saturday on hard courts at Pat Rafter Arena.

Barty’s win ended Azarenka’s 13-match winning streak in Fed Cup play. Earlier, Aryna Sabalenka gave Belarus a 1-0 lead after defeating Samantha Stosur 7-5, 5-7, 6-3.

Sabalenka won the first set when she broke serve in the final game. Stosur took the second thanks to a service break at 4-3. In the final set, the Belarussian player saved two break points in the first game and broke serve in the fourth before serving out to claim victory in 2 hours, 47 minutes.

The teams will play reverse singles and a doubles match on Sunday.

It is the first Fed Cup meeting between the countries. Australia last reached the semifinals in 2014, losing 3-1 to Germany, and is looking to make the World Group final for the first time since 1993.

Belarus has reached the semifinals for the last three years and lost the 2017 final 3-2 to the U.S. France is hosting Romania on clay at Rouen in the other semifinal this weekend.

The winners meet in the final on Nov. 9-10, with Australia playing at home if it advances.

France and Romania level at 1-1

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.

Stephens pulls US even with Swiss in FedCup after Keys upset

Sloane Stephens beat Timea Bacsinzsky after Viktorija Golubic upset Madison Keys in straight sets Saturday, leaving the United States and Switzerland tied 1-1 in their Fed Cup World Group playoff.

Stephens, the No. 8 player in the world, won 6-4, 6-3 on the hard court inside Freeman Coliseum. Her win for the Americans was crucial after the 80th-ranked Golubic was in control throughout in a 6-2, 6-3 victory over the No. 14 Keys.

Stephens is scheduled to play Golubic on Sunday, followed by Keys against Bacsinzsky. If necessary, Sophia Kenin and Jessica Pegula of the United States would play Ylena In-Albon and Conny Perrin in doubles.

The winning team moves to the 2020 World Group draw. The losing team is relegated to World Group II next season.

Stephens came back from deficits of 3-1 in the first set and 2-0 in the second against Bacsinzsky.

Stephens broke Bacsinzky in the seventh game of the second set to take the lead, and Bacsinzky became error prone after she was called for a questionable double hit in the eighth game.

In the first match, Keys made 47 unforced errors and was 0 for 4 on break points against the soft serving Golubic.

Golubic broke Keys twice in the first set and never let her wrest the momentum after dropping the first game of the second. With the score 3-3, Golubic rallied from down 40-15 in the seventh game to break Keys, who dropped to 4-5 in Fed Cup singles matches.

The Americans have won all eight meetings against Switzerland in Fed Cup play.