France are the 2019 Fed Cup champions. (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)
France claimed the 2019 Fed Cup title with a thrilling 3-2 victory over hosts, Australia on Sunday.
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Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia secured the title for the French after combining to beat the Australian duo of Ashleigh Barty and Sam Stosur in the deciding doubles rubber in Perth.
While France celebrate their third Fed Cup title- their first since 2003- Australia’s lengthy drought in the competition continues- the seven-time winners haven’t been champions since 1974. The Aussies have now lost their last nine Fed Cup finals, and their disappointment at this latest setback was captured by the post-match emotions of world No. 1, Ashleigh Barty, who broke down in tears during the trophy presentation.
“I think you can see how much it means to all of us,” Barty said. “Obviously it’s bitterly disappointing to be sitting here not with the result that we were after”.
“But all in all, it’s about taking a little bit of perspective and this team — this group of girls — personally, I wouldn’t want to be sitting here with anyone else… It’s been an amazing journey.”
It was elation for the French, who had lost their last three Fed Cup finals- 2004, 2005 and 2016- before finally claiming a third title on Sunday. Former world No. 10, Kristina Mladenovic was the star of the show, winning three matches over the weekend- two in singles, and Sunday’s doubles rubber. The French No. 1 got her country off to the perfect start on Saturday, speeding past Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1 6-1 in the opening rubber of the tie, but Australia hit back in style as world No. 1, Ashleigh Barty dismissed former world No. 4, Caroline Garcia 6-0 6-0 to leave the final poised at 1-1 after Saturday’s matches.
The two No. 1s went head-to-head in Sunday’s opening rubber, and it was Mladenovic who came out on top, perhaps surprisingly, fighting back from a set down to beat Barty 2-6 6-4 7-6 and put the visitors in the driver’s seat. Tomljanovic drew Australia level again with a 6-4 7-5 victory over Pauline Parmentier, who had been selected instead of Garcia for the reverse singles.
Garcia returned to partner Mladenovic in the deciding doubles rubber, and the French pair, who won the French Open together in 2016, combined to pull off a 6-3 6-4 victory over Barty and Stosur, giving the French their first Fed Cup title since 2003.
“I’m the proudest man on the planet right now, said French captain, Julien Benneteau. “I’m so proud of my girls and my team – they deserve it because they fought for a long time for this title”.
“It’s a dream for me. I tried to imagine that at the beginning of the year when I knew that I could have the best team with me on the court. Now, eight months later here we are.”
Mladenovic and Garcia were on the losing end of a deciding doubles rubber in Strasbourg in 2016, beaten by the Czech pair of Karolina Pliskova and Barbora Strycova on home soil, but they made up for that heart-break with Sunday’s victory. It’s also the perfect reunion for the duo, who had a very public falling out in 2017, but have teamed up again this year to propel their country to Fed Cup glory.
“Yeah definitely. It’s lots of emotions with Caro after, like you said, we failed on the last step of the tie and today we just wanted to take this little revenge for ourselves and it’s not describable how we feel right now” Mladenovic said.
The Fed Cup will have a new format next year, with the home and away system replaced by a 12-nation Fed Cup Finals to be staged in one venue. The 2020 Fed Cup Finals will be held in Budapest next April.