PERTH, November 10, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
Beating Ashleigh Barty in Australia twice – and on the same day – seemed unthinkable. Yet, Kristina Mladenovic and France did it. And because Mladenovic came up big by winning both her singles and doubles rubbers on Sunday, France won the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Final and became champions for a third time overall and first time in 16 years.
An epic Fed Cup season culminated inside Perth’s RAC Arena with France raising the French Tricolour in celebration after winning two of the three final-day rubbers. It’s the first Fed Cup title for the French since they beat the United States in 2003.
THEY’VE DONE IT!
— Fed Cup (@FedCup) November 10, 2019
“It’s lots of emotions to share this with Caro after three years ago we failed on the last step of the tie,” Mladenovic said on court while fighting back tears during an interview with her doubles partner, Caroline Garcia, standing by her side. When the volatile French duo appeared together in their last Fed Cup final, they fell to Karolina Pliskova and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic in the 2016 tie-clincher. “Today we just wanted to play for a little revenge for ourselves, and it’s just not describable how we feel right now.”
With this year’s tie level at 1-1 coming into the second and final day of the competition, the pivotal third rubber centering around the matchup of each country’s No. 1 players, Barty and Mladenovic, would play a key factor in deciding the final outcome. On line for Australia was a chance at winning its first Fed Cup title in 45 years. Not since 1974 had the Green and Gold lifted the champion’s trophy, and it was the Aussie’s first Fed Cup Final appearance since 1993. Meanwhile, France hadn’t won the Fed Cup in 16 years and was trying to cleanse itself of a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to the Czech Republic in the 2016 final, which was decided by a decisive doubles rubber.
As it happened, Mladenovic stunned the mostly Australian crowd of 13,842 that filled RAC Arena by defeating Barty, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (1), to give France a 2-1 advantage. It ended Barty’s perfect 2019 Fed Cup record and 15-match winning streak. Not only did Mladenovic fight off a break point at 3-4 in the second set that, had it gone the other way, would have left Barty serving for the match. She rallied back after letting a 3-1 final set lead slip away from her.
“I fought as hard as I could,” a disappointed Barty said after suffering her first Fed Cup loss since February 2017. “I hope that I did my team proud. I hope that I did all Australians proud because I fought with everything I had left.”
Then, after Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic rebounded from her 6-1, 6-1 first-day drubbing against Mladenovic to solidly beat Pauline Parmentier of France – subbing for Garcia – 6-4, 7-5, that squared the tie at 2-all, it all came down to a lively and tense fifth rubber decider in doubles. With the Fed Cup title at stake, both Australian team captain Alicia Molik and her French counterpart, Julien Benneteau, stuck to their original pairings – Barty and Samantha Stosur for the Aussies and Garcia and Mladenovic for France.
With plenty of excitement and tension riding on the outcome of the tie’s final rubber, Australia broke Garcia in the opening game, but soon France evened the score at 2-2 when Stosur was broken at love. At 5-4, the French broke Barty when she hit a forehand long to win the opening set. The momentum carried Garcia and Mladenovic to a 3-0 lead in the second set, with Barty broken again, and suddenly France had won five straight games. Then, ahead 5-2, the French missed on their first two championship-point tries, but in the next game, a Garcia volley garnered an error by Stosur on the third championship point and the Fed Cup title was France’s to savor. With Garcia and Mladenovic giddily on the ground in celebration, they were soon joined by the rest of their French teammates.
“I’m not sure I’ve completely realized, because it’s been a crazy weekend for everyone,” Garcia said on court shortly after she and Mladenovic secured the Fed Cup for France, still trying to comprehend her emotions. “The doubles went very fast, but we played every point so focused, and we played a great match and it was very tense.”
Benneteau added, “I’m the proudest man on the planet right now. I’m so proud of my girls and the team — they deserve it because they fought for a long time for this title.”
The Fed Cup tie ended with Mladenovic being undefeated in three matches after she and Garcia put a wrap on the doubles in just 76 minutes. With her victory earlier in the day against Barty, it was the second time Mladenovic has beaten a World No. 1 this season, after having defeated then-No. 1 Naomi Osaka in Dubai in February.
“We kept on fighting every single point, that’s the way I love to play my tennis,” said Mladenovic in an on-court interview after her comeback win over Barty. “Ashleigh’s World No. 1, she’s such a huge champion.
“I lost the first set, but it’s about details. When you play the World No. 1 at this level, you can’t fail and give away opportunities. I just kept believing because I felt I was out there fighting and giving a hard battle, and I’m just so proud how I kept pushing, and I won at the end.”
While Team Australia fought back tears during the trophy ceremony, Barty later found perspective in defeat. “Personally I wouldn’t want to be sitting here with anyone else,” she said during her team’s press conference afterward. “It’s been an amazing journey. An amazing time of year for us. To be able to be in a Fed Cup final is something that’s very precious. We’ll cherish it and it will drive us more for next year.”
For the 23-year-old Barty, especially, capturing the Fed Cup would have capped a most unforgettable season that included winning a first Grand Slam title at the French Open and rising to become World No. 1.
“Playing in front of almost 14,000 Australians for me is incredible and it’s a really, really special time of my life. I think each Fed Cup tie that we’ve had in Australia is gaining more and more attention and exposure.
“I think you can see how much it means to all of us and obviously it’s bitterly disappointing to be sitting here. I think it’s going to be a tough one. This is something that all of us have been looking forward to for six months.
“Now it’s about resting, recovering and reflecting on the year that’s been, for me. But I think for all of us, just in a Fed Cup specific point of view, the journey that we’ve been on is simply remarkable, in the last two years, it really has.”
By the numbers
The two-day total tie attendance of 26,951 (13,109 on Saturday and 13, 842 on Sunday) at RAC Arena was the second highest for a Fed Cup Final since 2005 and the largest crowd for a Fed Cup tie in Australia.
2019 Fed Cup Final results
France 3, Australia 2
R1: Kristina Mladenovic, France, d. Ajla Tomljanovic, Australia, 6-1, 6-1
R2: Ashleigh Barty, Australia, d. Caroline Garcia, France, 6-0, 6-0
R3: Kristina Mladenovic, France, d. Ashleigh Barty, Australia, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (1)
R4: Ajla Tomljanovic, Australia, d. Pauline Parmentier, France, 6-4, 7-5
R5: Caroline Garcia/Kristina Mladenovic, France, d. Ashleigh Barty/Samantha Stosur, Australia, 6-4, 6-3