PERTH, November 9, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Day 1 of the 2019 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final between host Australia and visitor France could be best summed up as a case of bagels and breadsticks.
Consider the score lines: France’s Kristina Mladenovic beats Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1, 6-1. Australia’s Ashleigh Barty trounces Caroline Garcia 6-0, 6-0.
Australia and France are tied 1-1 in the Fed Cup Final after Barty double-bagelled Garcia, 6-0, 6-0, in just 56 minutes, to extend her Fed Cup winning streak to 15 matches. Barty’s victory came shortly after Mladenovic’s 6-1, 6-1 breadstick win against Tomljanovic set the tone for the day.
Indeed, Saturday was a busy day at the hot bed tennis bakery, where sunny skies and scorching 34-degree Celsius temperatures (93º F) greeted both Fed Cup teams and their cacophonous fans at RAC Arena in Perth. There was great atmosphere and staging all around and, as Barty proved in front of a crowd of 13,109 – which set a new record for a Fed Cup tie at home – the momentum that Mladenovic gave France by winning the first rubber changed so quickly. That’s because less than a week after wrapping up the year-end World No. 1 ranking and winning the Shiseido WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China, Barty simply looked unbeatable.
“I think that’s probably the best tennis match I’ve ever played in my life,” Barty said on court after leveling the Fed Cup Final tie. “I think just overall today I executed very well. I made Caro pretty uncomfortable.
“I felt like in the first three or four of my service games I was in control of a lot of points, and Caro is a player who likes court position. She likes to be up in the court. So, that was a key factor for me today. And that’s probably the best I’ve returned in a long, long time.”
From the outset, Barty started quickly and streaked ahead 3-0. She extended it to 4-0 with a forehand passing shot winner. At 5-0, Garcia extended the sixth game to six deuces and saved four set points. However, she couldn’t hold off a fifth one. Then, Barty continued her domination of the former World No. 4 by striking an ace to go up 1-0 to start the second set. She hit an inside-in forehand winner for 2-0 and a service winner for a 3-0 lead that broke down Garcia further. After, Garcia hit a scattershot forehand wide to trail 4-0, she finally got some breakpoints against Barty. However, the affable Aussie erased them one-by-one – with superb serving – and won four straight points to reach an insurmountable 6-0, 5-0 lead. With one more break of Garcia’s serve, it was finally over – 6-0, 6-0. Barty outpointed Garcia by a wide margin, 55-26.
“So obviously, I was a little bit stressed, but not overstressed. And I don’t think that’s the reason why I play that bad,” said Garcia afterward. “But, I think she today she played a very good match from the first point and to the last one. And I couldn’t find the little things that can bother her.”
It’s been 45 years since Australia last held the Fed Cup trophy. After a remarkable first day with two uncharacteristic but remarkable one-sided rubbers – with one win secured and two to go for the Aussies – the drought might soon be over.
Before the Barty Party changed the tenor of things, the opening rubber pitted the Australian newcomer Tomljanovic, ranked 51st, facing a familiar foe across the net from her, French No. 1 and 40th-ranked Mladenovic. They’ve been hitting partners since their junior days. So, probably no secrets between them, right? As it turned out, Mladenovic produced an impressing and authoritative performance in routing the nervous debutant Tomljanovic in 71 minutes to give France its first point of the tie.
While Tomljanovic struggled with her serve – placing just 42 percent of her first serves in and winning just 57 percent of her first-serve points – Mladenovic was successful in winning 83 percent of hers. She finished with 16 winners to just two for Tomljanovic, who hit 18 unforced errors and was broken six times.
“I don’t think I started off so bad, whereas she just didn’t give me much,” said Tomljanovic. “And I think when I gave her too much of a lead, she just started swinging even more. She was seeing the ball huge.”
During an on-court interview after her win, Mladenovic said, “I really did almost a perfect match. I was really in the zone.
“I love these kind of events – the more the pressure it is, the bigger the pressure it is, the more special is the event. … I came out there and I just wanted to win, basically.”
Later, during her press conference, Mladenovic said: “I just felt that I was extremely focussed on just myself and playing my game. And I had my game plan really in mind. And I think I committed perfectly and I just played, let’s say too fast and I felt like I was in my confidence on pretty much the whole time, which I’m very satisfied about.”
Following Mladnovic’s triumph, it prompted Darren Cahill, the Australian-born coach of Simona Halep, to tweet: “Near perfect match from Kiki. Really well played. Handled the moment beautifully. France off to a hot start.”
France’s hot start didn’t last once Barty took the court. It was the second rubber which everyone in Perth – if not around the world – had been waiting for that matched the Australian No. 1 Barty versus French No. 2 Garcia, ranked No. 45.
Barty fired eight aces and won an incredible 19 of 21 first-point opportunities, a 90-percent efficiency rate. She faced only two break points the entire match. When it was over, Barty finished the one-sided affair with 15 winners to just three for Garcia and she committed just nine unforced errors. The Frenchwoman hit 15 forced errors and committed 16 unforced errors. It was the first time that Garcia had ever been double-bagelled.
Asked about the dominant score line, Barty told media, “I don’t think that’s important to me.
“Caro’s a good friend of mine – it’s obviously a tough one to swallow. I’ve been on the back end of them as well.”
— Fed Cup (@FedCup) November 9, 2019
Fed Cup Notes
Samantha Stosur, Australia’s most successful Fed Cup singles player, was presented with the Fed Cup Award of Excellence by the ITF and the International Tennis Hall of Fame during Friday’s draw ceremony.
Stosur, who is a 16-year veteran of the Australian Fed Cup team, has played in 31 ties dating back to 2003. She’s compiled a 29-20 win-loss record in singles and is undefeated (8-0) in doubles.
“It’s a real privilege to be able to represent my country over so many years, so to be recognized for this over so many great tennis players around the world is a real honor, so thank you very much,” Stosur said in recognition of receiving the award.
“I’ve always loved representing my country. I’m very lucky to have been able to do it for so many years, and be part of so many great teams. Thanks for being a fantastic team currently, and I also want to thank all my previous teammates for making all these weeks so special.”
The ITF and the ITHF annually present the Fed Cup Award of Excellence to a representative from the host nation of the Final who has shown great dedication to Fed Cup by BNP Paribas and who represents the ideals and spirit of the competition.
By the numbers
Kiki Mladenovic came into the Fed Cup Final needing just one win to move into fifth place on the list for total Fed Cup match wins by a French player. With her victory over Ajla Tomljanovic, she moved ahead of Julie Halard-Decugis with 23 Fed Cup victories.
What they’re saying
Todd Woodbridge, former Australian player turned broadcaster with the Nine Network: “You know you’ve made it in sport, or in life, when one of the most iconic Australian food products, of course being Vegemite, has been renamed after you. They are calling it Bartymite. That is a special honor.”
Rubber 3: Ashleigh Barty vs. Kristina Mladenovic, 11 a.m. (3 a.m. GMT)
Rubber 4: Ajla Tomljanovic vs. Caroline Garcia.
Rubber 5: Ashleigh Barty/Samantha Stosur vs. Caroline Garcia/Kristina Mladenovic