PERTH, Australia -- Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic closed out an intense, unpredictable final tie with a doubles victory over Ashleigh Barty and Samantha Stosur to give France the 2019 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas championship.
After splitting the singles matches for the second straight day, Garcia and Mladenovic paired up to earn a 6-4, 6-3 win in the decisive doubles rubber to clinch France’s third Fed Cup championship. It is the first Fed Cup title for France since they defeated the United States to claim the championship in 2003, 16 years ago.
"I’m not sure I’ve completely realized, because it’s been a crazy weekend for everyone," Garcia stated on court, after their historic win. "The doubles went very fast, but we played every point so focused, and we played a great match and it was very tense."
Mladenovic had given France a 2-1 lead after her stunning 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(1) upset of World No.1 Barty opened play on Sunday. However, the tie was sent to a live doubles rubber after Ajla Tomljanovic claimed her first Fed Cup win for Australia with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over singles substitute Pauline Parmentier.
Nevertheless, the day finished with Mladenovic going undefeated in three matches over the weekend, as she and Garcia notched the 76-minute doubles win, leading the French squad to victory. It was a hard-fought narrow victory coming after the French team experienced a whisker-thin defeat in their last Fed Cup final, when Garcia and Mladenovic fell to the Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova and Barbora Strycova in the doubles match in 2016.
"It’s lots of emotions to share this with Caro after three years ago we failed on the last step of the tie," Mladenovic said during the on-court celebration. "Today we just wanted to play for a little revenge for ourselves, and it’s just not describable how we feel right now."
As the day began, Barty picked up right where she left off on Saturday, firing a forehand to set up a volley winner to claim an early break lead at 2-0. Mladenovic pulled herself into contention despite dropping the first three games, sealing two consecutive service holds at love, but she never held a break point in the opening set as Barty gritted out tough holds for a 5-2 head start. Barty broke again to claim the opener after a netted volley from Mladenovic.
Mladenovic did garner her first break points of the match in the opening game of the second set, and had five overall in that game, but Barty evaded them all to hold to start the frame. Barty moved through a handful of routine holds before grasping a break point at 4-3, but the World No.1 squandered that chance with a forehand error, and Mladenovic eventually held on for 4-4.
At this juncture, Barty’s forehand miscues were increasing in frequency, while Mladenovic was finding perfect backhand passes, leading to the Frenchwoman’s first break of service to lead 5-4. Another forehand error from Barty came on Mladenovic’s first set point, and the French No.1 had leveled the match at one set apiece with clutch play at the back end of the second set.
Mladenovic continued her momentum in the decider, earning an early break at 2-1 and was a point away from breaking Barty for a second time and a 4-1 lead. However, Barty found aggressive shotmaking when needed, to hold o for 3-2, then come out on top of extended rallies to break back for 3-3.
As the set reached its terminus, both players got nervy on serve. Barty dropped serve at love to give Mladenovic a 5-4 lead, but serving for the match, the Frenchwoman dropped her own serve at love to put the match all square at 5-5. Mladenovic then had three break points in that game, but Barty used big serving to squeak her way to a hold, as the players inevitably moved to a decisive tiebreak.
In the breaker, Mladenovic fired the pivotal shot early, knocking off a brilliant forehand pass to lead 3-1. Barty could not recover after that point, hitting two errors to give Mladenovic a 5-1 lead at the changeover. The French No.1 slammed an ace to reach 6-1 and claim five match points, and she only needed one as Barty hit a forehand into the net to give Mladenovic a massive upset.
The victory was Mladenovic's second over a World No.1 this season, having beaten then-No.1 Naomi Osaka in Dubai in February. "We kept on fighting every single point, that’s the way I love to play my tennis," Mladenovic said on court after her match. "Ashleigh’s World No.1, she’s such a huge champion.
"I lost the first set, but it’s about details. When you play the World No.1 at this level, you can’t fail and give away opportunities. I just kept believing because I felt I was out there fighting and giving a hard battle, and I’m just so proud how I kept pushing, and I won at the end."
With Australia a match away from defeat and her back against the wall, Tomljanovic had to survive two break points in her opening service game of the match, but the Australian No.2 held on, as she and Parmentier moved through a closely-contested first set.
Parmentier saved a break point to hold for 4-4, but Tomljanovic had two more chances to break at 5-4. The Australian won an all-court rally to attain the first break of the match and wrap up the one-set lead.
Tomljanovic pulled ahead in the second set by using powerful returns to break Parmentier for a 4-2 lead, and the Australian had game point to consolidate for a commanding 5-2 lead. But Parmentier charged forward to pull herself back into that game, and Tomljanovic double faulted to let the Frenchwoman back on serve. After an ace to hold for 4-4, Parmentier was right back in the thick of things.
Tomljanovic suddenly found herself down break point in the next game, but an ace erased Parmentier’s chance, and more big serves helped the Australian eke ahead 5-4. Tomljanovic maintained her advantage until she grasped two match points at 6-5 after errors by her opponent.
A deep service return by Tomljanovic forced an error from Parmentier on the first match point, and Australia was back level in the tie at two wins apiece. Overall, Tomljanovic won a staggering 77 percent of points off of her second serve, as she moved to the 92-minute victory, which was a far cry from her 6-1, 6-1 loss to Mladenovic on Saturday.
"I’m really glad I got a second chance today, and got the win, kept us in," Tomljanovic said on court following her victory. "This team has been unbelievable all week and it’s been such a privilege to play for you guys."
Tomljanovic was unfazed by the French team's use of Parmentier instead of the previously scheduled Garcia. "It was more about what I had to do on my end of the court today, so it really didn’t matter who came out," Tomljanovic stated.
With the tie deadlocked once more, the doubles would determine the victors, and four Grand Slam doubles champions lined up to settle the score. The Australians took the early lead, as Garcia was broken in the opening game by an error-forcing volley by Barty. But after the Australians reached 2-0, the French duo started to take control.
Stosur was broken at love to put the set back on level footing at 2-2, and the French pair had little trouble holding onto their serve for the remainder of the set. The Australians also were not overly troubled again until 5-4, when sturdy aggression by Garcia and Mladenovic gave them two set points on the Barty serve. On the first, Barty fired a shot long to cede the opener.
Suddenly, the French tandem extended their tear, as Mladenovic blasted a backhand winner down the line to break Barty for the second time in succession and win their fourth game in a row, reaching 2-0 in the second set.
Garcia immediately had to face three break points on her serve in the next game, but she saved the first two with pinpoint accuracy on blistering passes, and Mladenovic volleyed her team out of danger on the third, as the notched a fifth straight game and led 3-0. Garcia had to stave off another break point on her serve at 4-2, but did hold on to put her team one game away from triumph.
The French missed two match points on Stosur’s serve at 5-2, but, in the subsequent game, a devastating volley by Garcia forced an error from Stosur on the third match point, locking up France’s third win of the weekend and the third Fed Cup title in their nation’s history.