By Ros Satar
- The Aegon GB team have been battling the elements as they prepare to face Romania in top-ranked star Simona Halep’s home town
- Halep leads off against Heather Watson
- Johanna Konta v Irina-Camelia Begu
- Sorana Cirstea and Monica Niculescu named against Laura Robson and Jocelyn Rae
CONSTANTA, ROMANIA – A tough challenge awaits the Aegon GB team as they face Romania not only on home turf, but in Simona Halep’s home town.
Simona Halep v Heather Watson – H2H: Halep leads 3-0
It is a tough start for Britain’s Heather Watson, who was the star of the Fed Cup campaign to earn a spot in the Fed Cup play-off. Since then though she has struggled back on the tour with her ranking dropping to her current rank of 113 in the world.
As reported by Skysports.com, she told reporters: “I really enjoy the team environment, especially having everyone at the side of the court, cheering me on and backing me. It’s different from a regular tournament and I think I really thrive in it and that shows in my results.”
Although she trails the World No. 5 in their head to head, she certainly gave Simona Halep pause for thought in their first meeting at the US Open in 2013, taking the first set off the Romanian before losing in three sets. However their last two encounters have been far more convincing wins for the home-town girl.
Halep has not always found it easy to deal with her fame back home, and has admitted that this home-coming, and playing in front of her own crowd will be tough.
— Fed Cup (@FedCup) April 21, 2017
Watson will need to gear up for not necessarily hostile but certainly extremely boisterous support for Halep, but it will be a tough ask to bring the first point home. Halep’s form had not been great after starting the year with injury woes, but she seemed to hit her groove in Miami, until she came up against Johanna Konta in the quarter-final.
It is hard not to see a Romanian win, but Watson certainly has it within her to keep Halep out there for three sets.
Prediction: Halep in three sets.
Johanna Konta v Sorana Cirstea – First meeting *UPDATE*
The pressure will be on, as all eyes will most likely look to Konta for the first points on the board. Although it is a first meeting on clay between them, and indeed Konta has won a fair few lower tier titles on the dirt, playing at tour level has somehow been a different story for the Brit.
The key will be for Konta to adjust her aggressive game to the surface. Maybe more time on the ball will help for her trademark drive volleys, but it could punish her for her less than deft touch when it comes to the finesse of the more delicate pickups.
Cirstea does have a good serve but can be inconsistent off the ground at times but could be a danger at the net. She did enjoy a spirited run at Madrid last year, but has been mixing her outings across the main tour and the lower levels having battled some persistent injuries over the last couple of years, working her way back up the rankings after falling out of the Top 100 in 2015.
Prediction: Konta in three sets.
Simona Halep v Johanna Konta – H2H: Konta leads 2-1
Depending on how Day One goes, it could all come down to this match. If the tie is still level, it is a chance for Halep to try and extract a little revenge for her last two losses at the hand of the Brit – once, at the hands of Konta the qualifier in Wuhan, as she took out Halep as the top seed, and more recently a battle royal in Miami on Konta’s way to the title.
Halep can perhaps take a little solace that her first win over the Brit came in Fed Cup, in the February group stages in 2014. But of course a lot has happened for both players since then. Halep rose on the world’s stage and spent a little time adjusting to that, and now it is Konta’s turn to deal with the pressure of being the hunted.
However, Halep can sometimes go off the boil and we have seen some frustrated exchanges between her and her coach Darren Cahill, when she lets things get her down. There will be no Cahill here, but the pressure will still be on as she will be expected to bring the victory home for Romania, and maybe here Konta’s usually calm demeanour will really come into its own.
If we based tis on current form then edge has to be with Konta, but even allowing for her slow start this year, Halep is well suited for the clay – winning two titles last year (Madrid, Bucharest). Konta will need to pull this out of the bag.
Prediction: Konta in three sets.
Irina-Camelia Begu v Heather Watson – H2H: Begu leads 1-0
As we have discussed, Begu’s defence coupled with Watson’s ability to run after things all the live long day could make this a real nail biter, if the tie is still live. Watson has worked hard to put more pep into her serve, and attack more, but she possesses good court smarts too.
Given the weather issues, we can expect Watson to maybe drop back to a more defensive play if the conditions are swirly to give her the chance to run around her shots more. Again, if she can come in and be more the aggressor at the net, then perhaps she could punch above her ranking weight for the win.
Prediction: Watson in three sets.
If the tie is still alive, we might expect the Aegon GB Captain Anne Keothavong to substitute Konta and Watson for doubles specialist Jocelyn Rae and Laura Robson. It was a bold call in the play-off match in February against Croatia.
It looked for a spell like that gamble had not worked as the scratch duo lost the first set but came back convincingly to put GB through to the play-offs. Expect to see Konta and Watson in if they need to bring it to a conclusion.
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