France on brink of Fed Cup victory
PERTH, Australia (AP) — France is close to ending a 16-year Fed Cup drought after Kristina Mladenovic stunned Australia's Ashleigh Barty with a nerve-wrenching 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (1) victory on Sunday to give the visitors a 2-1 lead in the final.
World No.40 Mladenovic started slowly before taking advantage of an error-strewn Barty, whose 15-match Fed Cup winning streak was ended in a see-sawing match lasting two hours and 31 minutes.
Mladenovic failed to close out the match on serve in the 10th game of the deciding set before dominating world No.1 Barty in the tiebreak to produce arguably the best victory of her career.
"I lost the first set but I knew it was about details and I just kept believing because I felt I was out there fighting," a teary Mladenovic said after the match.
Pauline Parmentier will aim to clinch the title for France when she plays Ajla Tomljanovic who struggled in her Australian Fed Cup debut against Mladenovic on Saturday. Parmentier replaces former world No.4 Caroline Garcia who failed to win a game against the French Open champion Barty.
If the Australian prevails, the deciding doubles will likely pit Barty and Samantha Stosur against Mladenovic and Garcia.
Barty started where she left off against Garcia on Saturday, firing back-to-back aces to take the first game then broke Mladenovic's serve on her way to claiming the first set in 33 minutes.
But the French No.1, who thrashed Tomljanovic 6-1 6-1 in the first match on Saturday, fought her way back into the contest and took advantage of a series of unforced errors by Barty to force a deciding set.
An inspired Mladenovic grabbed a stranglehold of the third set with an early break and nearly repeated the dose in the fifth game. Barty, however, held serve and then broke back in the sixth game.
The twists continued with Mladenovic unable to serve out the match after breaking in the ninth game before finally closing it out with a dominant tiebreak.
Australia hasn't won the Fed Cup, then known as the Federation Cup, since 1974 when Evonne Goolagong, Dianne Fromholtz and Janet Young defeated the United States 2-1 in Italy.
France last won the Fed Cup in 2003 and most recently made the final in 2016.
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