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France crush Australian dreams to win Fed Cup final

 

France’s Caroline Garcia (R) talks with Kristina Mladenovic during the
doubles match against Ashleigh Barty and Samantha Stosur of Australia
in the Fed Cup final tennis competition between Australia and France
in Perth on November 10, 2019. Tony Ashby / AFP
A jubilant Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia led France to its
first Fed Cup title since 2003 on Sunday, winning a deciding doubles
rubber to crush Australian dreams 3-2.
In the last tournament played under the current format, the pair kept
their focus at Perth Arena to overcome Ashleigh Barty and Samantha
Stosur 6-4, 6-3, denying the home team their first crown in 45 years.
It was France’s third title and first since they beat the United
States 16 years ago, piling more misery on seven-time champions
Australia who have now lost all nine of the last Fed Cup finals they
have appeared in.
Mladenovic and Garcia, who won the 2016 French Open doubles title,
bounced back from going an early break down in the first set to expose
Stosur’s weaknesses, with the veteran out-of-sorts and making too many
mistakes.
World number one Barty, stunned by Mladenovic in a singles rubber
earlier Sunday, did her best to keep Australia in the hunt, but the
French pair were clinical, racing to victory as their team-mates went
wild.
“I’m the proudest man on the planet right now, I’m so proud of my
girls and my team. They deserve it because they fought for a long time
for this title,” ecstatic France captain Julien Benneteau said
courtside.
“For sure I am going to have a lot of beers now.”
The final marked the last Fed Cup played under the current format,
with an overhaul next year seeing 12 nations compete in a six-day
event in Budapest.
That will mean an end to home ties and the atmosphere they bring, with
the 26,951 fans turning up over two days in Perth the second-highest
Fed Cup attendance on record after Roland Garros (30,000) in 2005.
The doubles clash was set up by Ajla Tomljanovic hauling the home team
back into the tie by beating France’s Pauline Parmentier 6-4, 7-5.
She came on court after 40th-ranked Mladenovic upset Barty 2-6, 6-4,
7-6 (7/1) in an epic.
Croatian-born Tomljanovic, in her Fed Cup debut for Australia, had
been thrashed 6-1, 6-1 by Mladenovic in the opening singles rubber on
Saturday.
But captain Alica Molik kept faith with her and she bounced back to
beat Parmentier 6-4, 7-5.
“Really glad I got a second chance today and got the win and kept us
in,” said the Australian. “The team has been unbelievable all week and
it is such a privilege to play for you guys.”
Earlier Barty, who has been in scintillating form, whipping Garcia
6-0, 6-0 on Saturday after winning the WTA Finals in China last
weekend, crashed in a classic.
“From my point of view I fought as hard as I could and I hope that I
did my team proud and all Australians proud. I fought with everything
I had left,” said Barty.
Barty started where she left off after the “double bagel” of Garcia on
Saturday, breaking Mladenovic’s first service game with a net volley
to extend her streak to 15 games this weekend.
But Mladenovic held serve to end the Barty run and it became a closer
affair before the Australian began forcing errors to take the first
set.
Barty saved five break points in the opening game of the second set,
but Mladenovic finally worked a first crucial break with some quality
passing shots, with a forehand long from Barty giving her a 5-4 lead.
She held her nerve to serve out the set.
Mladenovic, who beat Barty on clay in Rome earlier this year, was on a
roll with the French star breaking then holding for a 3-1 third-set
lead.
Stung, Barty rallied for 3-3 but the errors again crept in and the set
ultimately went to a tense tie breaker where Mladenovic triumphed.
“I just kept believing because I felt I was out there fighting and
giving her a hard battle. I’m just so proud how I kept pushing and
obviously won the game,” said Mladenovic.

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