Mladenovic gives France 1-0 lead in Fed Cup final

Barty bagels Garcia as Australia level Fed Cup final

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s ever-dependable Ash Barty doled out the dreaded double-bagel to Caroline Garcia to level the Fed Cup final against France at 1-1 after the opening day’s singles at Perth Arena on Saturday.

On a day of scorching heat, France struck the early blow when Kristina Mladenovic thrashed Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1 6-1 but the terrier-like Barty wrested back the momentum with her 6-0 6-0 humiliation of Garcia.

World number one Barty will return on Sunday for the reverse singles and also the doubles, if required, as Australia bid for their first Fed Cup title in 45 years.

“I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect match. That’s probably the best tennis match I’ve ever played in my life,” a thrilled Barty said courtside.

“What a place to do it, this is incredible.”

Australia were wobbling after Tomljanovic’s torrid Fed Cup debut match against Mladenovic, but a beaming Barty strode onto court cradling her niece in her arms and soaking up a huge ovation from the packed crowd.

That was the last display of tenderness the French Open champion would produce until consoling Garcia with a hug at the net after scarcely 56 minutes of play.

The crowd may hope for a tighter contest on Sunday and should get it if the confident Mladenovic meets Barty in the singles.

The French number one came out swinging against rookie Tomljanovic, who was thrown into the cauldron by team captain Alicia Molik.

With Fed Cup veteran Sam Stosur overlooked for the singles, Molik’s gamble backfired as Croatia-born Tomljanovic, who only became eligible to represent Australia a month ago, promptly crumbled under pressure.

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Mladenovic broke her early in a barrage of power hitting and wrapped up the first set in 38 minutes with a fierce forehand return, delighting a rowdy pocket of blue-clad French fans.

Tomljanovic’s serve further disintegrated in the second set as Mladenovic roared to a 5-1 lead before sealing the match when Tomljanovic slapped a return well beyond the baseline.

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