PERTH, Australia (AFP) — A jubilant Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia led France to its first Fed Cup title since 2003 on Sunday, winning a deciding doubles rubber to crush Australian dreams, 3-2.
In the last tournament played under the current format, the pair kept its focus at Perth Arena to overcome Ashleigh Barty and Samantha Stosur 6-4, 6-3, denying the home team its first crown in 45 years.
It was France’s third title and first since it beat the United States 16 years ago, piling more misery on seven-time champion Australia that has now lost all nine of the last Fed Cup finals it has appeared in.
Mladenovic and Garcia, who won the 2016 French Open doubles title, bounced back from going an early break down in the first set to expose Stosur’s weaknesses with the veteran out-of-sorts and making too many mistakes.
World number one Barty, stunned by Mladenovic in a singles rubber earlier Sunday, did her best to keep Australia in the hunt, but the French pair was clinical, racing to victory as its teammates went wild.
“I’m the proudest man on the planet right now. I’m so proud of my girls and my team. They deserve it because they fought for long time for this title,” France captain Julien Benneteau said courtside.
“For sure, I am going to have a lot of beers now.”
The final marked the last Fed Cup played under the current format with an overhaul next year seeing 12 nations compete in a six-day event in Budapest.
That will mean an end to home ties and the atmosphere they bring with the 26,951 fans turning up over two days in Perth the second-highest Fed Cup attendance on record after Roland Garros in 2005.
Ajla Tomljanovic set up the doubles clash as she hauled the home team back into the tie by beating France’s Pauline Parmentier 6-4, 7-5.
She came on court after 40th-ranked Mladenovic upset Barty 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/1) in an epic duel.
Croatian-born Tomljanovic, in her Fed Cup debut for Australia, had been thrashed 6-1, 6-1 by Mladenovic in the opening singles rubber on Saturday.
But captain Alica Molik kept faith as she bounced back to beat Parmentier 6-4, 7-5.
“Really glad I got a second chance today and got the win and kept us in,” said the Australian. “The team has been unbelievable all week and it is such a privilege to play for you guys.”
Earlier Barty, who has been in scintillating form, whipping Garcia 6-0, 6-0 after winning the WTA Finals in China last weekend, crashed in a classic.
“From my point of view I fought as hard as I could and I hope that I did my team proud and all Australians proud. I fought with everything I had left,” Barty said.
Barty started where she left off after the “double bagel” of Garcia, breaking Mladenovic’s first service game with a net volley to extend her streak to 15 games this weekend.
But Mladenovic held serve to end the Barty run and it became a closer affair before the Australian began forcing errors to take the first set.
Barty saved five break points in the opening game of the second set, but Mladenovic finally worked a first crucial break with some quality passing shots, with a forehand long from Barty giving her a 5-4 lead.
She held her nerve to serve out the set.
Mladenovic, who beat Barty on clay in Rome earlier this year, was on a roll with the French star breaking then holding for a 3-1 third-set lead.
Stung, Barty rallied for 3-3 but the errors again crept in and the set ultimately went to a tense tie breaker where Mladenovic triumphed.
“I just kept believing because I felt I was out there fighting and giving her a hard battle. I’m just so proud how I kept pushing and obviously won the game,” Mladenovic said.