WASHINGTON, April 22, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
On opposite sides of the globe separated by 16,586 kilometers, first in Brisbane, Australia, and later in Rouen, France, a pair of gut-wrenching Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Cup semifinal clashes came down to the wire, both decided by decisive doubles rubbers. When it ended, both home teams, Australia and France, emerged victorious – each a 3-2 winner – and will meet in the Fed Cup Final in November, to be hosted by the Aussies.
At Pat Rafter Arena in Brisbane, Ashleigh Barty continued her winning ways that began a couple of weeks ago at the Miami Open, when she lifted her first WTA Premier Mandatory trophy and broke into the Top 10. The 22-year-old Aussie amazed everyone over the weekend against visiting Belarus by beating former World No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and current No. 10 Aryna Sabalenka in back-to-back second and third rubbers – both in straight sets – and then teamed with Sam Stosur to pull out a tremendous three-set victory over Azarenka and Sabalenka, 7-5, 3-6, 6-2, on Sunday evening.
The Australia-Belarus tie essentially came down to a two-person-per-side battle with Barty and Stosur representing the Aussies against Azarenka and Sabalenka from Belarus, which was trying to get back to the Fed Cup final for the first time since 2017.
By going a perfect 3-for-3 over the weekend, Barty lifted the seven-time Fed Cup champion Australians into the final for the first time since 1993. (Australia last won the Fed Cup title in 1974.) She became the first player in Fed Cup history to pull off the feat of winning six successive rubbers in the opening round and semifinals en route to reaching the Fed Cup Final.
While Barty has now won 14 consecutive Fed Cup rubbers, Stosur, the team’s veteran at age 35, tied compatriot Kerry Reid with 37 Fed Cup wins, which is second on Australia’s all-time Fed Cup honor roll.
“The way that we went about that doubles match was pretty special, and I think the clarity that we had, the game plan that we had, we didn’t stray from it, we stuck to it, and in the big moments we brought our our best, and when you’re wearing the green and gold that’s pretty special,’’ said Barty, as quoted by the Fed Cup website.
“For me to be able to share this with the girls sitting here now it’s unreal, and the way that ‘Mol’ (Australia team captain Alicia Molik) has been able to create this team atmosphere and environment and this real want and desire to play for Australia again, it’s been unbelievable, it really has. It’s been a two or three year process to get to this point, we’ve taken our opportunities here and we’ve worked as a team.
“It’s a want for all Australian players to show that we’re a powerhouse nation.’’
Meanwhile, in the Kindarena in France’s Normandy region, France’s Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic paired in doubles for the first time since 2016 and lifted the two-time champion French into the final with a three-set win over Simona Halep and Monica Niculescu, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4. Earlier, Halep had given Romania a 2-1 advantage when she beat Garcia in a two hour and 57 minute thriller, 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-4. The two nations were on court more than seven and one-half hours on Sunday. France, which was playing in its fourth Fed Cup semifinal in the past five years, sent their fans home happy.
The Aussies will take a 5-1 head-to-head lead into the November final.
World Group I playoffs
Czech Republic 4, Canada 0
At Prostejov, defending champion Czech Republic secured their return to the World Group with four consecutive straight-set wins against overmatched Canada, which was playing without injured No. 23 Bianca Andreescu. No. 47 Marketa Vondrousova paced the Czechs with a pair of wins.
United States 3, Switzerland 1
At San Antonio, Texas, World No. 8 Sloane Stephens won both of her singles rubbers over the weekend and 20-year-old Sofia Kenin, inserted for the struggling Madison Keys, clinched the tie for the U.S. with her first Fed Cup win when she beat Timea Bacsinszky.
Germany 3, Latvia 1
At Riga, Germany clinched its tie with three straight wins in singles by three different players – Andrea Petkovic, Julia Goerges and Mona Barthel – as Latvia’s best player, Jelena Ostapenko, lost twice. Latvia’s only point came during a dead-rubber doubles match. By winning the tie, Germany will return to the World Group for a seventh consecutive year in 2020.
“We had a really good time this week,” said Petkovic, quoted by the Fed Cup website. “It was really lovely, nice to be back with these girls. When you get into the day-to-day grind of the tour, you sometimes forget how nice it is to be surrounded by a team and have somebody hug you after a win and comfort you after a defeat. I think we all enjoy that.”
Spain 3, Belgium 2
At Kortrijk, it came down to a fifth-rubber doubles win by Carla Suarez-Navarro and Garbiñe Muguruza to return Spain to the World Group for the first time in two seasons. The Spaniards beat Kirsten Flipkens and Ysaline Bonaventure, 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-2. Suarez-Navarro contributed to all three of Spains points as she won both of her singles rubbers over the weekend, defeating Alison Van Uytvanck and Yanina Wickmayer.
World Group II playoffs
Russia 4, Italy 0
At Moscow, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova won both of her singles rubbers over the weekend to give the Russians an unassailable 3-0 advantage against Italy. She beat Martina Trevisan 6-4 6-3 in the tie clincher.
Japan 4, Netherlands 0
At Osaka, Misaki Doi led Japan’s shutout of the Netherlands with a pair of singles wins. The Dutch were winless in eight Fed Cup rubbers in 2019 and will be relegated to next year’s Europe/Africa Group I for the first time since 2014, and just three years after they reached the World Group semifinals. The Netherlands have now lost six of the last seven ties, including their last four ties on hard courts.
Great Britain 3, Kazakhstan 1
At London, Great Britain returned to the World Group for the first time since 1993 after winning a pair of comeback singles rubbers on Sunday from Johanna Konta and Katie Boulter.
“Finally!” said Great Britain captain Anne Keothavong. “I’m ecstatic for the team and totally in awe of these incredible women.
“Our goal was to get to the World Group, but we will believe we can compete with the very best. This is just the start of a long journey together. Anything is possible.”
Slovakia 3, Brazil 1
At Bratislava, Dominika Cibulkova kept Slovakia in World Group II thanks to her 7-6 (3) 6-0 win over Brazil’s Beatriz Hadad Maia, which clinched the tie. Cibulkova, who turns 30 next month, won her last Fed Cup match before retiring from her national team. Cibulkova ends her Fed Cup career with a 22-11 singles win-loss record.