WASHINGTON, April 22, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
On the final day of France’s Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group semifinal tie against Romania, French captain Julien Benneteau took some calculated risks, but they all turned out well. When it ended, after seven hours and 38 minutes of intense competition inside the Kindarena in Rouen, France had advanced to its sixth Fed Cup Final with a 3-2 victory over Romania.
The tie played on indoor red clay wasn’t decided until the decisive doubles rubber, in which Caroline Garcia, who was once a Fed Cup holdout, and Kristina Mladenovic reunited on court after a two-and-one-half year absence to lead the French over Simona Halep, who was doing double duty in place of injured Irina-Camelia Begu, and Monica Niculescu, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4. It denied Romania, which was trying for its first Fed Cup Final berth.
Somehow, Benneteau acted as a peacemaker – matchmaker maybe? – and used every bit of his persuasive talents to get Garcia and Mladenovic to set aside their personal differences to join forces for France. As one eyewitness put it, “what their pairing lacked in any dazzling mutual warmth, it compensated for in competitive determination.”
After Garcia hit an unreturned serve on match point, she raced to the net and shared a very genuine embrace with Mladenovic. Each beamed a smile that permeated the loud, jam-packed arena.
— Fed Cup (@FedCup) 21. April 2019
Earlier, the World No. 2 Halep garnered a 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-4 triumph for Romania over the 21st-ranked Garcia in a matchup of No. 1 players, which turned into a beguiling and dramatic battle that clocked in at three minutes shy of three hours. Halep was outpointed by Garcia, 113-100, and she committed more unforced errors, 59-33. Yet, somehow, she won.
Then, No. 53 Pauline Parmentier subbing for No. 66 Mladenovic at No. 2 singles for France, snapped her four-match Fed Cup losing streak against No. 83 Begu, 6-3, 2-6, 6-2, that kept French hopes alive and evened the tie at 2-2. Unfortunately for the Romanian, she twisted her right ankle and it forced her out of doubles. She was replaced by Halep, who played admirably despite a jarred left hip injury that she sustained in singles against Garcia.
Benneteau’s decision to go with Parmentier against Begu in the fourth rubber was a turning point for France, especially when one considers that the French No. 2 won only her second Fed Cup singles match in nine attempts.
During his post-tie press conference, Benneteau reflected upon his team’s determination to reach the finals against Australia, which earlier in the day advanced to the Fed Cup Final over Belarus 3-2 in Brisbane, his thoughts on inserting Parmentier into the lineup, and also about the doubles partnership between Garcia and Mladenovic.
“Every match was incredible,” said Benneteau. “The first singles was world class tennis. Then I knew Pauline could make it. I’m so happy for her. She deserved it. Then the doubles for a place in the final. It was not about only tennis, there was a lot of something else.
“After a shaky start, they found the courage to play the right tactics. They fought so hard. I’m very proud of them. It was always my intention as captain to put them together and no, it was not hard to do it. The final will be a massive challenge for us, with nothing to lose. But now we will have a good night.”
With his team still in tears during the post-tie press conference, Romania’s coach Florin Segarceanu spoke on behalf of all of them. He said: “Yes, it’s brutal, but it’s tennis. We dreamed about the final. It was so close. You could see how hard the girls fought, how much they wanted it. Simona was feeling her hip, and she would have done anything for the win. But you could see at the end she was getting tired, a little late to the ball.
“Still it was a beautiful tie, a wonderful experience, unbelievable tennis. At the end, just one team wins. In the last round, that was us with maybe just a bit of luck, a couple of balls, and here it was France’s time.”