Fed Cup

02/09/2018 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/09/2018 13:36

Carol Zhao to open for Canada against Cirstea in Romania

Be positive, the mantra goes. So the good news for Canada in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas is that they are on a five-tie winning streak, that they count a current two-time Grand Slam champion among their number, and that their World Group II first round opponents Romania are without Simona Halep.

The problem for the Canadians is that their rivals are in possession of even more good news - a tie on home soil, standing at 2-0 in previous jousts between these nations, with such hefty advantages in ranking, age and experience that Canada's aforementioned Slam champion, Gaby Dabrowski, may find her doubles is a dead rubber.

Moreover, for as much as the Romanians are without Halep, neither Canada's no.1 Eugenie Bouchard nor their no.2 Francoise Abanda will be involved. Both Canadian women made themselves unavailable for this tie, whereas Halep (ruled out by the after-effects of her Australian Open exertions) has nonetheless travelled to the city of Cluj an hour's flight north-west of Bucharest to cheer on her team.

'It's always a loss for us to be without Simona,' said Begu, 'but we have so many players that we can make two teams for this.' Moments later, Cirstea upped that: 'We could send three teams here.'

Canadian captain Sylvain Bruneau was diplomatic on his missing duo: 'I really like Genie and Francoise, and I like when they're at Fed Cup - but I like the ones who are here,' he said. 'It's a fact that we're playing a team which on ranking and experience is significantly better. We will go for it, and see. The goal is always the win, but I would like to see my players really push themselves at all times. If they do that, I'm happy.'

Commencing the fray at the Sala Polivalenta on Saturday will be old hand Sorana Cirstea - she first dipped her toe into Fed Cup waters some 12 years ago - facing Carol Zhao, in her debut singles appearance; to be followed by seasoned campaigner Irina Begu up against Bianca Andreescu (now there's an intriguing surname on Romanian soil - more about her shortly).

Sunday will bring the reverse singles, and then rookie Ana Bogdan alongside Raluca Olaru facing Katherine Sebov and Gaby Dabrowski in the doubles. The latter became the first Canadian ever to win a Slam title when she took the mixed at Roland Garros last year with Rohan Bopanna, adding the Australian Open crown last month with Mate Pavic.

Carol Zhao, 22, will be unfamiliar to some, and has an unusual story. Born in China, she moved to Ontario with her family at seven. She won the Australian Open junior doubles with Ana Konjuh at 17 but opted for a science degree at Stanford University in California instead of turning professional.

Two years ago she put her studies on hold to take that step into tennis. Outside the top 400 last August, she stands at 138 now… and by the way, back in 2013 she beat Irina Begu in the final of the Canadian Open.

'We're all cognisant that they're a much more experienced team than us and we're relatively younger,' said level-headed Zhao, who stands just 5ft5in (1.65m) tall. 'But we're fresh, ready to go and very excited.'

At 17, born this millennium, Bianca Andreescu is already 7-1 in Fed Cup, including the fabulous win over Yaroslava Shvedova last April to seal Canada's stunning victory over Kazakhstan in the World Group II play-offs. Here in Cluj she can be heard chattering away to local journalists in their own language - with both parents Romanian, she lived in their country for several years as a child before moving back to Ontario permanently.

'Oh, I'm Canadian,' she smiled to FedCup.com, her hand on her heart. (Mind you, in 2014 she named her heroine as Halep, even though that was the year Bouchard was runner-up at Wimbledon.) 'I like having two fan bases in the two countries. It will be nice to see what happens with the support this weekend.'

At the helm of Romania's Fed Cup squad for the first time is former Davis Cup captain Florin Segarceanu, 56. 'I am enjoying this, although it's different from the men's - more intense, you have to take care of how you behave with the girls to keep everyone happy,' he said. 'A little bit more difficult but I really enjoy it. We knew on Monday that Simona wouldn't play. After her fantastic Australian Open, everyone was hoping to see her here but she couldn't recover. It wasn't worth risking a bigger injury. But we still have a great team.'

Cirstea plainly agrees with him: 'We have so many players that it doesn't matter about Simona. Even without her, we should be able to do the job.'