MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Kristina Mladenovic moved France in sight of a first Fed Cup title in 16 years by pulling off a brave 2-6 6-4 7-6(1) win over world number one Ash Barty in the first reverse singles of the final against Australia on Sunday.
Mladenovic’s inspired comeback win on the blue hardcourt hushed a heaving crowd of 13,841 at Perth Arena and gave France a precious 2-1 lead.
France will look to veteran Pauline Parmentier to seal the final with victory over Ajla Tomljanovic in the second reverse singles, after team captain Julien Benneteau withdrew Caroline Garcia from the potentially decisive match.
Garcia was crushed 6-0 6-0 by Barty on Saturday after Tomljanovic endured a similarly torrid 6-1 6-1 loss to Mladenovic in the opening singles.
Should France close out the win, they will have Mladenovic largely to thank for snapping Barty’s run of 15 consecutive Fed Cup wins.
“Julien and all the crowd and my team mates, we kept on fighting every single point,” the emotional 26-year-old said courtside.
“That’s the way I love to play my tennis.
“Ashleigh’s world number one, she’s just a huge champion. I lost the first set but then it was about details.
“I just kept believing because I felt I was just out there fighting and giving a hard battle and I’m just so proud how I kept pushing and obviously won at the end.”
Battling the crowd and one of the cleverest all-court opponents in the game, Mladenovic stumbled on the road to victory as Barty broke back twice in the decisive set.
But the French number one served up a storm in the tiebreak and collapsed in relief after Barty finally surrendered with a forehand slapped into the net.
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Richard Pullin & Shri Navaratnam