AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France -- Sloane Stephens, the 2017 US Open champion, and Madison Keys, the 2017 US Open runner-up, picked up straight-set victories on Day 2 of the Fed Cup World Group semifinal tie between the United States and France, sending the defending champion Americans back into the final.
Stephens, currently ranked a career-high World No.9, started the day with a comprehensive victory over Kristina Mladenovic, 6-2, 6-0, dispatching the Frenchwoman in only 55 minutes. Keys was made to work harder by Pauline Parmentier, but ultimately prevailed 7-6(4), 6-4, clinching the tie for the Americans.
The United States will attempt to defend their Fed Cup title in November's final, when they face the Czech Republic. Earlier on Sunday, Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova took the Czechs to their sixth final in the last eight years by closing out the German team led by Angelique Kerber and Julia Goerges.
Coming into the second and final day of the event tied at 1-1, both teams desired a quick start in order to attain momentum which could propel them to victory. And it was the United States who came out ahead in that race after Stephens' stellar showing against Mladenovic.
Stephens, fresh off another big title at the Miami Open, was in complete command from beginning to end, hitting 18 winners to only 10 unforced errors, while Mladenovic was out of sorts, with only four winners and a whopping 18 miscues.
The ninth-ranked American raced to a 5-1 lead in the opening set, as Mladenovic was only able to claim 50 percent of points on her first serve. By contrast, Stephens was winning over 75 percent of points on both her first and second serve in the set, and closed out the first set in 29 minutes.
The second set was even briefer, as Stephens broke Mladenovic on the first opportunity she grasped in each of the Frenchwoman's service games. The American did not allow Mladenovic to hit even one winner in the second set, as she cruised to victory.
“That was a really good one," Stephens said afterwards, per fedcup.com. "You never anticipate a scoreline like the way it turned out but it was really solid. I was playing well and took advantage of that, making sure I took my opportunities when I got them."
The second victory was far less straightforward, although Keys showed great fortitude in methodically recovering from a double-break deficit in the first set, when Parmentier jumped to a 4-1 lead via impressive low-percentage groundstrokes which were often finding their spots.
From that point, Keys began to zone in on her service returns, breaking Parmentier at love to get to 4-2, and then taking the Frenchwoman's serve again to level the set at 4-4 after Parmentier misfired a backhand into the net down break point.
Keys was twice a point away from taking the set 6-4, but Parmentier fended off both of those opportunities with gutsy play, and held for 5-5. The players eventually advanced to the tiebreak, and they stayed within touching distance of each other until a Parmentier forehand went awry, giving Keys double set point. The American closed out a hard-fought, come-from-behind set with a forehand passing shot.
Keys took an early 3-2 lead in the second set, forcing an error with another solid service return on break point, but a pumped Parmentier quickly tied the set at 3-3 after a scintillating backhand passing shot, sending the French crowd and her captain, Yannick Noah, into a frenzy alongside her.
But the crucial break went to Keys at 4-4, overcoming a Parmentier 40-30 lead and calmly taking over the game with a powerful service return to reach break point, and breaking with a beautiful backhand winner down the line. Serving for the match, Keys found herself down break point one last time, but another strong serve brought her to deuce, and two points later, the American put her team back into the final.
“I wanted to be the one who got that winning point," Keys said, as reported by fedcup.com. "I was so sad I couldn’t play in the final last year because of my wrist injury. Fed Cup is special. It captures the extremes of the highs and lows of tennis. It takes me days to recover from a Fed Cup loss, whereas with a normal match within a day you’re bouncing back – but the wins are incredible."