PERTH, Australia -- Alizé Cornet passed the test of a first-time encounter at the United Cup, defeating Maria Lourdes Carle 6-2, 6-1 in 1 hour and 15 minutes. The French WTA No.2 was then backed up by her ATP No.1 counterpart Arthur Rinderknech, who extended his team's lead over Argentina to 2-0 after defeating Francisco Cerundolo 6-4, 6-2.
Cornet, a quarterfinalist at the 2022 Australian Open, had never faced No.147-ranked Carle before. Consequently, the first five games were filled with extended baseline exchanges as both players probed each other's games while refusing to miss.
It was University of Georgia alumna Carle, 22, who ran out of ideas first. A lapse into error handed Cornet the first break for 4-2, and the Frenchwoman seized momentum firmly to reel off six straight games, including 13 of the last 14 points of the first set.
Punishing Carle's second serves and getting the better of the all-court rallies, Cornet was in control at 2-0 in the second set -- until she squandered three game points for 3-0. Carle took advantage, breaking back with a vicious slice to halt the run of games against her.
But Cornet refused to let that become a turning point. A booming backhand winner down the line regained her advantage for 3-1 and she did not drop another game, sealing her first match point with an authoritative smash.
"I barely knew anything about [Carle]," said Cornet afterward. "I got to see that she had a pretty good forehand and she was moving around on the court well. She's a grinder too, and really motivated. I felt she was ready for the fight, so I was trying to be even more ready than her. Overall, I was trying to stay focused on what I had to do myself, leaning on my strengths, and I thought I did it pretty well.
"The first four games were pretty tight -- I was feeling the nerves, to be honest! -- and then I played better and better. I loosened up my game and it was a pretty entertaining match for the crowd and for me."
The @UnitedCupTennis is just around the corner ! Getting ready with @CaroGarcia in order to try to get our revenge over Argentina 😤😉— Alize Cornet (@alizecornet) December 28, 2022
🇨🇵🇦🇷 starting tomorrow at 6pm local time 💪 #TeamFrance #AllezLesBleus pic.twitter.com/klSlwkgyZU
In the final match of the day on RAC Arena, Rinderknech produced a clinical display.
The warning signs were there early for ATP No.30 Cerundolo. He faced two break points at 15-40 in the opening game of the match and despite digging deep to hold serve, he could not forge a repeat when the same situation arose in the seventh game. Relentless clean hitting from Rinderknech forced Cerundolo to push a forehand wide at 3-3, 30-40, and the Frenchman’s typically powerful serving ensured his opponent had little opportunity to fight back from then on in the first set.
Rinderknech was dialled in on serve throughout and faced no break points during the 91-minute encounter. That meant his two breaks of the Cerundolo serve in the second set were more than enough to complete a convincing victory and secure a commanding 2-0 lead for his team. It was another impressive showing on Australian soil from the 27-year-old Rinderknech, who reached his maiden ATP final at the Adelaide International 2 in 2022.
Team Argentina will now look to Nadia Podoroska and Federico Coria in Friday’s singles matches to try and stay alive in the tie. Both face higher-ranked opponents, however, with Podoroska taking on World No.4 and WTA Finals champion Caroline Garcia and Coria facing ATP World No.46 Adrian Mannarino.
The ATP Tour contributed to this report.