Australia and France to meet in Fed Cup final

Published by AAP

Australia's Fed Cup team celebrates progress to the 2019 final; Getty Images
Ash Barty leads Australia to a first Fed Cup final in 26 years, while France seize a dramatic victory over Romania to progress to the world team event decider.

An Ash Barty-powered Australia isn’t done yet, after the team booked the country’s first Fed Cup finals appearance in 26 years 3-with a 3-2 win over Belarus.

World No.9 Barty won all three of her matches in Brisbane to improve her unbeaten run to 14 in the teams event and become the first women to win all six matches on the way to a Fed Cup decider.

A tense weekend came down to the doubles rubber, with Barty and Sam Stosur beating Belarus pair Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka in a thrilling decider 7-5 3-6 6-2.

Australia will host France in the November final, after Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic triumphed in the doubles to claim a 3-2 victory over Romania in Rouen.

Australian captain Alicia Molik was fully aware of the significance as Australia chase their first title since 1974

“It was just an incredible weekend,” Molik said. “How fabulous for them (the crowd) to watch role models like this.

“Everyone loves to support the Aussies, but the Aussie Open feels like it comes and goes so quickly (in January).

“I feel fortunate … to have the stage in April and we’ll get to share it again in November.

“I don’t remember anyone talking about just making the final and I think that’s a good thing.”

Barty was a class above all weekend and it wasn’t missed by a gracious Belarus, team who were led on Sunday by former world No.1 and two-time Australian Open winner Azarenka.

Her 6-1 6-1 domination of Stosur gave Belarus the momentum after Barty had beaten world No.10 Aryna Sabalenka 6-2 6-2 to edge Australia ahead 2-1.

“It was that close; the whole weekend was just an extraordinary display of women’s tennis and I was just so happy to be a part of that,” Azarenka said.

“They just took their opportunities a little better.

“They were really good today … for me personally I walked off with a smile because I’m very proud of my team.”

Barty was ice cool all weekend, striding calmly onto court with three-year-old niece Lucy in her arms on Sunday before switching into game mode.

Molik’s decision to stick with Stosur for both of Sunday’s matches was a brave one, but the 35-year-old recovered remarkably.

Blown away by Azarenka earlier in the day – Stosur only held serve once all match – the veteran reset to improve her perfect Fed Cup doubles record to 8-0 thanks to some quick hands and assured court craft under immense pressure.

There was similar composure from Garcia and Mladenovic as they led France to the nation’s sixth Fed Cup final.

The two 25-year-olds defeated world No.2 Simona Halep and Monica Niculescu 5-7 6-3 6-4 to wrap up the tie in front of an enthusiastic home crowd in the Normandy city of Rouen, ending Romania’s dreams of reaching their maiden final.

France previously won the competition in 1997 and 2003.

Halep and Niculescu began in dazzling fashion and took the opening set but the French pair replied in style, levelling the score after striking 25 winners in the second set.

The French duo won on their first match point to seal the rubber and the tie as Niculescu thumped a service return into the net.

Garcia and Mladenovic were playing together for the first time since they were defeated by the Czech Republic in the deciding doubles of the 2016 Fed Cup final.

“Every match was incredible,” said France captain Julien Benneteau.

“It was always my intention as captain to put them together and no, it was not hard to do it. The final will be a massive challenge for us, with nothing to lose. But now we will have a good night.”

Halep had earlier given the Romanians a 2-1 lead as she needed all her skill and determination to battle past aggressive baseliner Garcia 6-7 (6) 6-3 6-4 in a thrilling encounter that lasted two hours and 21 minutes.

“I knew it would be more difficult than yesterday,” Halep said. “She started very fast, hitting the ball very strong, and I think I was a bit slow.”

The Romanians, who won their only previous Fed Cup tie against France in 1976, made it to the last four after upsetting defending champions Czech Republic in an epic quarterfinal in Ostrava in February.

Pauline Parmentier, who had won just one of her eight Fed Cup rubbers, beat Irina Begu 6-3 2-6 6-2 to send the tie to the decider with the Romanian struggling from an ankle injury in the third set.

 

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