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Belgium vs France Fed Cup live streaming, preview and tips: Caroline Garcia completes triumphant Fed Cup return as she guides France into the semi-finals

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 10 Feb 2019
  • Belgium host France in Liege for the Fed Cup World Group first-round tie, 9-10 February
  • Garcia sent France into the semis with a dominant 6-2 6-3 victory over Elise Mertens
  • France will play either Romania or defending champions, Czech Republic in the semi-finals
Caroline Garcia. (Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Caroline Garcia eased past Elise Mertens to give France the 3-0 lead in Belgium, and seal the visitor's spot in the last four.


DRAW & SCHEDULE


RESULTS

Day One - Belgium 0-2 France
Caroline Garcia (FRA) d. Alison van Uytvanck (BEL), 7-6(2), 4-6, 6-2
Alize Cornet (FRA) d. Elise Mertens (BEL), 7-6(6), 6-2

Day Two- Belgium 1- 3 France
Caroline Garcia (FRA) d. Elise Mertens 6-2 6-3
Ysaline Bonaventure (BEL)/ Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) d. Fiona Ferro (FRA)/ Pauline Parmentier (FRA) 6-3 3-6 10-6

Caroline Garcia eased past Elise Mertens to give France an unassailable 3-0 lead in their Fed Cup tie against Belgium in Liege, sending the visitors into the semi-finals for the fourth time in five years.

Just two ranking spots separate Garcia and Mertens, with the former at 19th and the latter at 21st, but Garcia was way too good on Sunday, winning 6-2 6-3 in the first of the day’s reverse singles.

Playing her first Fed Cup tie since 2016 after falling out with some of her teammates at the start of 2017, Garcia was pivotal to her country’s success over the weekend, beating Alison van Uytvanck on Saturday, and then backing it up with the win over Mertens, thus improving her Fed Cup singles record to 10-4. The former world No. 4 broke twice in the first set, and once in the second to ease to victory over a below-par Mertens in an hour and 18 minutes.



"I knew it would be a difficult match, even when I won the first set 6-2, I was ready for a comeback and for her to play better, because she’s a great player, a great fighter on court. But I kept focused and I was able to play very solid," said Garcia.

France have not won the Fed Cup since 2003, but they will have a chance to reach a second final in four years when they either host Romania, or visit the Czech Republic in April’s semi-finals.


DAY TWO PREVIEWS

Elise Mertens (BEL) vs Caroline Garcia (FRA), 12.30pm GMT
The unexpected defeat of Belgium's top singles player, world no. 21 Elise Mertens, at the hands of Alize Cornet has left the home side reeling - and Caroline Garcia with the chance to send France to the semifinals in Sunday.

The return of Garcia to the French side after a two-year absence which sparked public acrimony from her teammates was one of the big storylines of the weekend, but in many ways the world no. 19 looked like she had never been away in a fine match against Alison van Uytvanck. The Frenchwoman improved her Fed Cup singles record to 9-4 as she justified her selection by new captain Julien Benneteau by coming out on the right end of a tight, seesawing match - there was nothing to choose between the two in the first set until van Uytvanck served a crucial double fault at the beginning of the tie-break, but the Belgian redeemed herself by coming back from an early break down to snatch the second set before Garcia pulled away in the third. 

'It was an intense match, but I was ready for it and I’m ready to work on court again tomorrow if I need to,' Garcia said. 

'[Mertens]’s a great player, she had an amazing year last year, and she’s playing in front of her crowd so she’s probably going to play even better.'

Unfortunately for Belgium, Mertens must be reeling after a 6-7(6), 2-6 defeat to Cornet, who was only 3-14 in Fed Cup singles matches coming in. But the crafty veteran said that she played a 'perfect match', and she had all the answers to Mertens in a sparkling performance that leaves the home side on the brink of defeat.

Garcia won her only previous match against Mertens 7-6(6), 6-4, but that was in 2017 before Mertens surged up the rankings and when Garcia was playing the best tennis of her career (and it was still tight). Mertens has all the tools to make life very difficult for Garcia and should have taken note of van Uytvanck's tactics and how well it worked to keep the ball away from Garcia's forehand. With her back against the wall, can she make up for Saturday's defeat and keep the tie alive?

Alison van Uytvanck (BEL) vs Alize Cornet (FRA), to follow
After her stellar performance on Saturday against Mertens, Alize Cornet is unlikely to be benched by Julien Benneteau in favour of the out-of-form (and presumably injured) Kristina Mladenovic for Sunday's reverse singles, with a change of nomination also quite unlikely from the Belgians who should stick with Alison van Uytvanck after her good performance against Garcia.

The two have never met before, but I think van Uytvanck has every chance of beating Cornet if it comes to it. Cornet had great success drop-shotting Mertens, but that was largely because Mertens got too passive and stayed too far back; the Belgian had most success pressing forward into the court, but couldn't commit to the tactic consistently. Van Uytvanck has all the tools to do the same thing and can reel off winners with the best of them, with Cornet's loopy forehand vulnerable to a player who is willing to come forward.

Ysaline Bonaventure/Kirsten Flipkens (BEL) vs Fiona Ferro/Pauline Parmentier (FRA), to follow
Expect some changes of nominations should the tie go to a decisive fifth rubber (which it well might). 

Surely, with a place in the semifinals on the line, Julien Benneteau would have to at least consider putting Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic - who have won Grand Slam titles together before their partnership fell apart - in together, while Belgian captain Johan van Herck would, I imagine, put in either Mertens or van Uytvanck alongside the very tricky veteran Kirsten Flipkens. The advantage should be with France, especially if Mladenovic is fit enough to play. 


DAY ONE PREVIEWS

Alison van Uytvanck (BEL) vs Caroline Garcia (FRA), 1.30pm GMT
How will Caroline Garcia fare on her return to the French team? This is the big question of the weekend, with world no. 19 Garcia the highest-ranked player in the tie (albeit only by two places above Elise Mertens) and looked to, with Kristina Mladenovic not nominated to play any rubbers so far, to put France in a winning position.

How will Caroline Garcia fare on her return to the French Fed Cup team? (ERIC LALMAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Garcia holds an 8-4 win-loss record in Fed Cup singles and played a crucial role in France's Fed Cup final against the Czech Republic in 2016, beating both Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova in singles rubbers before she and Mladenovic fell agonizingly short in the deciding doubles. But Garcia withdrew herself from consideration for Fed Cup in 2017-18, which - along with a split with doubles partner Mladenovic - unleashed some acrimony and public bullying from other members of the French team on social media.

It also coincided with Garcia's career-best season in 2017, which saw her win Wuhan and Beijing back-to-back - an unprecedented feat - and break into the world's top 10, making the quarterfinals of the French Open to boot. A decent but unspectacular 2018 for the Frenchwoman, which saw her win Tianjin and reach the semifinals of Stuttgart and Madrid, saw her slip out of the top 10, and she threatens to slip further after an unimpressive beginning to 2019: Garcia is 2-4 in 2019, losing in the first rounds of Shenzhen, Hobart and Hua Hin and the third round of the Australian Open - in each case, to a lower-ranked player, and twice to players ranked outside the top 100. 

That strongly suggests there's a chance for Alison van Uytvanck here. Like Garcia, van Uytvanck is 2-4 in 2019, but as the lower-ranked player there will be less pressure on her shoulders (and Garcia doesn't love pressure). A real talent but inconsistent, van Uytvanck is a former French Open quarterfinalist who won Budapest in 2018 as well as eliminating Garbine Muguruza, the defending champion, from Wimbledon in a dazzling performance and making the semifinals of Linz. With a 12-5 win-loss record in Fed Cup singles which includes victories over the likes of Jelena Ostapenko, I like van Uytvanck's chances to drag the powerful but erratic Garcia into a long and emotional match, which - even if van Uytvanck doesn't win it - will put the hosts into a good position for the rest of the weekend.

Elise Mertens (BEL) vs Alize Cornet (FRA), to follow
Belgium's Fed Cup hopes are built heavily around Elise Mertens, the world no. 21, who at 23 is Belgium's brightest young star for a while.

Belgium look to Elise Mertens for big wins this weekend (BENOIT DOPPAGNE/AFP/Getty Images)
Mertens is 6-1 in Fed Cup singles and also owns a 1-0 record against Alize Cornet, having beaten her 7-5, 6-4 at the Australian Open in January - a tournament at which Mertens had her best career result, reaching the semifinals. Mertens also won a trio of International-level titles in 2018 and scored wins over the likes of Sloane Stephens and Aryna Sabalenka, although she ran out of steam towards the end of the season.

Currently ranked world no. 21 after failing to defend her Australian Open semifinal points, Mertens has nevertheless had a decent start to the year: She has gone 4-3 so far in 2019, but it must be recognized that she's been winning and losing to a high calibre of opponent as she attempts to make the next step upwards in her career: Ousted by Kiki Bertens in Brisbane, she beat Katerina Siniakova and Anett Kontaveit in Sydney before losing to eventual runner-up Ashleigh Barty, and had two good Australian Open wins before she went out in the third round to Madison Keys.

Alize Cornet is playing her eighteenth Fed Cup tie, but owns a woeful record in Fed Cup singles - she is just 3-14, and as far as I can tell, is on a four-match losing streak in Fed Cup singles dating back to 2014. One assumes that captain Julien Benneteau has only been prevented from picking Kristina Mladenovic, a strong Fed Cup performer, by illness or injury on her part.

A semifinalist in Hobart to start 2019, world no. 51 Cornet is still a strong and experienced player who can be relied on to try everything to make life difficult for her opponent, and if Mertens is nervous she will certainly take advantage. But Cornet can't overpower Mertens, and the Belgian's all-round game should be a winning formula against the French counterpuncher.

TIE INFORMATION

Location: Liege, Belgium

Venue: Country Hall du Sart-Tillman

Surface: Indoor hard courts

Belgium: Elise Mertens, Alison van Uytvanck, Kirsten Flipkens, Ysaline Bonaventure, Johan van Herck (captain)

France: Caroline Garcia, Kristina Mladenovic, Alize Cornet, Pauline Parmentier, Fiona Ferro, Julien Benneteau (captain)

TIE PREVIEW

Two first-time Fed Cup captains, Belgium's Johan van Herck and France's Julien Benneteau, will try to steer their sides through a finely-balanced tie in Liege.

France, one of only four nations to compete in every Fed Cup so far, were finalists in 2016 and lost narrowly to the Czech Republic, and were defeated by the USA in another lively semifinal in 2018. The two-time Fed Cup champions beat Belgium in the first round last year, with Kristina Mladenovic and Amandine Hesse teaming up for a decisive doubles victory, and the French team should in theory be even stronger with the return of Caroline Garcia - a key figure in their run to the final in 2016, an accomplished singles and doubles player, and the highest-ranked player in the tie at world no. 19 - to the side after a two-year absence in 2017 and 2018. 

But fissures within the French side remain after Garcia's departure from the team, and Kristina Mladenovic - a strong Fed Cup performer even when she struggles for form on the WTA Tour, and a brilliant doubles player - looks to be sidelined by injury, leaving Alize Cornet, the world no. 51 with a woeful Fed Cup record, to try to take her place in singles, although Benneteau could also call on the experienced Pauline Parmentier.

Belgium look to world no. 21 Elise Mertens and Alison van Uytvanck, a talented player who had some big wins in 2018, to avenge last year's defeat to the French, with veteran Kirsten Flipkens a third option in singles as well as a strong doubles player.

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Belgium vs France Fed Cup live streaming, preview and tips: Caroline Garcia completes triumphant Fed Cup return as she guides France into the semi-finals

Belgium vs France live streaming, preview and predictions for the Fed Cup 2019 World Group tie live from Liege from 9-10 February: Caroline Garcia eased past Elise Mertens to give France the 3-0 lead in Belgium, and seal the visitor's spot in the last four.

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