PERTH, November 7, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Ashleigh Barty and Kristina Mladenovic, the newly crowned WTA Finals singles and doubles champions, arrived from Shenzhen, China together in Perth, Australia earlier this week for the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final, which begins Saturday at RAC Arena.
While the focus of the final week of the 2019 women’s tennis season shifts from individual glory to team achievement, as Australia hosts France in the capital city of Western Australia, both Barty and Mladenovic figure to play prominent roles for their respective teams.
What began with 108 teams has come down to the final two. France is attempting to win its third Fed Cup title overall and first since 2003, while seven-time champion Australia vies to end a 45-year title drought. It last won the Fed Cup in 1974. Expect the roof at RAC Arena to be open this weekend, which figures to favor the home country.
“Having the roof open … the warmer weather, is something we’re familiar with, that we like, and I know all of the players have really enjoyed the stadium and also the surface,” Australia’s team captain Alicia Molik said earlier this week, quoted by the Fed Cup website. “We’re really hitting our groove – we can’t wait for the weekend. It’s starting to warm up and that’s pretty natural for summer in Australia. I think it will really suit us.”
After returning home to Australia and acclimating to the weather and the hard court conditions, Barty said: “This is a week that I circled at the beginning of the year, one that we wanted to try to get to as a team and as a nation. It’s so exciting to be able to finish the year playing for your country – it’s pretty special, and without a doubt it’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.”
Barty, who is undefeated in six live (singles and doubles) Fed Cup matches this year is the anchor of a very consistent Australian team. She already ensured herself as Australia’s first WTA year-end No.1 when she beat Elina Svitolina to lift the Billie Jean King Trophy on Sunday, adding to her collection of heavyweight trophies in 2019 that included triumphs at the Miami Open, Roland Garros, and a Wimbledon tune-up in Birmingham, England. Barty’s WTA Finals title improved her singles record this year to 56-12.
🗣️ “This is a year that I don’t want to end, it’s been incredible”
Fresh from her WTA finals success, we sat down with world No. 1 @ashbarty to get her thoughts on a whirlwind year and what playing for her country means to her 🇦🇺#FedCup #FedCupFinal #GoAussies pic.twitter.com/7ueqnN4F2v
— Fed Cup (@FedCup) November 7, 2019
Meanwhile, France’s Mladenovic, who is ranked World No. 2 in doubles, paired with Timea Babos of Hungary to win the French Open on clay and the WTA Finals on an indoor hard court. She’s also her country’s No. 1 singles player, currently ranked 40th.
Both Barty and Mladenovic will anchor their respective nations at No. 1 singles – and it’s likely they’ll also see duty in doubles. Expect to see them pitted against each other in Sunday’s reverse singles, and if the final goes to a decisive fifth match – in which doubles would decide the outcome – don’t be surprised to see Barty and Mladenovic standing across the net from each other. Friday’s official draw ceremony will reveal each nation’s nominations and determine the order of play.
Believe it or not, Australia and France do have players whose names aren’t Barty or Mladenovic that likely will play important support roles in both singles and doubles. Australia’s roster also includes 51st-ranked Ajla Tomljanovic and Samantha Stosur, who teamed with Zhang Shuai of China to win the Australian Open doubles and reached the semifinal round of the WTA Finals. She’s ranked 12th in doubles and will pair with Barty. France’s roster also has 45th-ranked Caroline Garcia and No. 60 Alize Cornet, one who will play No. 2 singles. Either of them might pair with Mladenovic in doubles.
“When you play a Fed Cup final with the No. 1 in the world in the other side, and away, you cannot say that you have an advantage,” France’s team captain Julien Benneteau said recently. “But for sure, I have a lot of options for singles and doubles.”
Garcia was a member of the 2016 French team that lost 3-2 in the finals to the Czech Republic. It was decided by the last rubber. “It has been a goal of mine to one day be a Fed Cup champion ever since and I’m very excited about the final,” she told ITFWorld. “To be playing Australia, another great tennis country, especially over there, is something I’m really looking forward to.”
French edition of the #FedCupFinal Quick Quiz
— TennisAustralia (@TennisAustralia) November 7, 2019
Stosur is a Fed Cup veteran who enjoys wearing the familiar green and gold team colors for Australia. “I’ve played Fed Cup for, I think, 16 years now, and loved every time I’ve been out there to represent my country,” she said earlier this week. “We want to make the most of it, absolutely – it’ll be right up there with the things you’ll always look back on in your career. Since we won that tie in Brisbane it’s been in the forefront of everyone’s mind to target this week and be at your absolute best.”
Australia-France Fed Cup rivalry
The Australia-France clash will be the seventh time the two nations have met in Fed Cup, but it’s their first in a Fed Cup final. Australia leads the head-to-head 5-1.
The road to the Fed Cup finals
First round – Australia d. United States 3-2. France d. Belgium 3-1.
Semifinal round – Australia d. Belarus 3-2. France d. Romania 3-2.
Australia – Ashleigh Barty, Ajla Tomljanovic, Samantha Stosur, Astra Sharma, Priscilla Hon
France – Kristina Mladenovic, Caroline Garcia, Alize Cornet, Fiona Ferro, Pauline Parmentier
Fed Cup schedule
Day 1 / Saturday from 11 a.m. (3 a.m. GMT) – two singles rubbers
Day 2 / Sunday from 11 a.m. (3 a.m. GMT) – two singles rubbers followed by doubles rubber