Cocciaretto the key as Italy overcome Romania

16/04/2021 16:00

Elisabetta Cocciaretto sealed Italy’s safe passage through to the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas Qualifiers after a clutch win over Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu

Cocciaretto the key as Italy overcome Romania

Elisabetta Cocciaretto sealed Italy’s safe passage through to the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas Qualifiers after a clutch win over Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu handed the visitors a 3-1 win in Cluj-Napoca.

Cool-headed throughout, the 20-year-old won 7-5 7-6(5) in two hours and 42 minutes to see off any chance of a Romanian comeback in the tie in Cluj-Napoca, after Elena Gabriela Ruse had threatened the start of a stirring revival for the hosts following her maiden win in the competition.

Ruse recorded her first win for her country at the second attempt, battling back to beat world No. 104 Jasmine Paolini - ranked 64 spots above her - 1-6 6-3 6-4 in impressive fashion in a contest lasting two hours and 32 minutes.

But while new player-captain Monica Niculescu might have hoped that could steer Romania away from the prospect of a third consecutive defeat, Cocciaretto had other ideas – to the delight of visiting captain Tathiana Garbin, who has now overseen a fifth straight victory for Italy in the competition.

“We needed such a victory,” Garbin said. “I had a great desire to honour the colours of my country, this special Italian shirt.

“Cocciaretto's victory is an exceptional result. We are thinking about the group, we are thinking about building for the future, and this is the most important thing."

Niculescu, too, might well be thinking about building a side for the future after her inexperienced players were dealt a baptism of fire in the tie when the likes of Simona Halep, Patricia Maria Tig and Irina-Camelia Begu all pulled out in advance of the tie due to injury.

That left Niculescu with an uphill task, and though Bara was overwhelmed by Cocciaretto on her debut appearance for her country on the opening day, 23-year-old Ruse – her replacement on Saturday - showed plenty of grit in beating Paolini.

Like Ruse, Paolini had also been a change to the intended line-up, with Italian captain Garbin bringing her in for the third match at the expense of a tired Martina Trevisan, who had pushed herself to the limit in her three-hour-seven-minute victory over Buzarnescu the previous day.

The Italian was brimming with determination at the start of the match and, after breaking serve for a 3-1 lead following a lengthy fourth game, she ran away with the opening set in 45 minutes.

Ruse raised her level from there on, dictating play and ultimately growing in confidence to pocket the next two sets and seal her first win in country colours, having lost to Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova in her only other singles appearance in the Billie Jean King Cup during last year’s Qualifiers.

“Walking onto the court I had very intense feelings,” reflected Ruse afterwards. “I fought hard and I won my first match in this competition, that's very important for me. I will always remember this moment."

Buzarnescu though was unable to match Ruse's victory, succumbing to her fifth straight singles defeat for her country to eliminate any chance of an appearance for player-captain Niculescu in the deciding doubles.