WASHINGTON, April 21, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Sunday suddenly got more interesting after host France leveled its World Group semifinal tie against defending champion United States at 1-all after Kristina Mladenovic rebounded for a 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 comeback win over CoCo Vandeweghe in Aix-en-Provence on Saturday. The loss ended Vandeweghe’s 13-rubber winning streak.
With a noisy, French crowd packed inside Arena du Pays D’Aix roaring the “La Marseillaise” and Mladenovic encouraging them on in between points by raising her arms and racket, the Frenchwoman somehow managed to completely turn around her rubber with the No. 16-ranked Vandeweghe that stunned her opponent and the rest of the American team, too.
After dropping six consecutive games to close out the opening set, the No. 20 Mladenovic picked herself up and made several adjustments to her game, including a mixture of slices, drop shots and inside-out forehands. From 3-all, Mladenovic won six consecutive games that not only pulled herself even in her rubber at a set each, but lifted her to what turned out to be an insurmountable 3-0 lead in the final set. She broke Vandeweghe three times in the third set and delivered a knock out punch that earned a crucial point for France – and, perhaps, gives the French the momentum going into Sunday. It was just Mladenovic’s second career win over Vandeweghe and the first since 2016.
🇫🇷 @KikiMladenovic stands up and delivers for her country once again – defeating Coco Vandeweghe 16 63 62 to level the Fed Cup semifinal in Aix-en-Provence.
— Fed Cup (@FedCup) 21. April 2018
In the tie opener, defending U.S. Open champion and World No. 9 Sloane Stephens overcame a 2-5 deficit in the opening set against No. 122 Pauline Parmentier, and went on to capture a 7-6 (3), 7-5 win that lifted Team USA to an early 1-0 lead. At 4-5 in the opening set, a gloomy-looking Stephens suddenly came alive to save five set points. Also, she fought off the partisan crowd that was trying to will Parmentier any advantage it could provide – often yelling out her nickname “Paupau.” It wasn’t enough, however, as Stephens earned her first Fed Cup match win in two years.
Interviewed on court by French TV after her rubber, Stephens said, “Playing Fed Cup is always really tough. I just tried to do my best. It was tough, but I was pleased to get a win.”
Speaking of tough, it was a subject that French team captain Yannick Noah dwelled upon prior to Saturday’s tie. “There are different ways for matches to be tough,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s because you’re favored and supposed to win. Sometimes, it’s because you’re away from home. Sometimes, because you’re playing a good team. There’s always a difficulty.”
• Among those sitting courtside in Arena du Pays D’Aix on Saturday were former French great Amelie Mauresmo with her two-year-old son.
• Although the U.S. leads France 11-2 in head-to-head Fed Cup play, the French have lost all seven of their ties against the Americans that have been played on red clay.
• Sunday’s play begins an hour earlier at 1 p.m. local time (11 a.m. GMT, 7 a.m. ET).