Gar­cia puts France back on track in Fed Cup fi­nal

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

Caro­line Gar­cia en­sured a sus­pense­ful sec­ond day in the Fed Cup fi­nal by down­ing two-time Wim­ble­don cham­pion Pe­tra Kvi­tova 7-6 (6) 6-3 to draw France level with the de­fend­ing cham­pion Czech Repub­lic 1-1.

Gar­cia's vic­tory re­stored some hope in the French camp af­ter sixth-ranked Karolina Pliskova won a marathon third set against Kristina Mlade­n­ovic to give the Czechs the first point yes­ter­day.

The Czechs are bid­ding for a fifth ti­tle in six years this week­end. They won the most re­cent tie be­tween them in the semi­fi­nals last year, and are fa­vorites to be­come the first team to win three con­sec­u­tive Fed Cups since Spain from 1993-95.

Af­ter Kvi­tova came back from 24 down in the opener, Gar­cia — the No. 1 French player — pre­vailed in the tiebreaker by tak­ing risks. She closed out the set on her sec­ond chance with a cross­court back­hand that Kvi­tova could not re­turn.

Gar­cia was bro­ken at the start of the sec­ond set but made the most of Kvi­tova's un­forced er­rors to claim four con­sec­u­tive games. Kvi­tova saved a match point with a fore­hand win­ner in the ninth game and Gar­cia con­verted her sec­ond with a shot on the base­line that sur­prised her Czech ri­val.

"Caro played a fan­tas­tic match, I had never seen her play at such a high level," France cap­tain Amelie Maursemo said. "To­mor­row is go­ing to be a beau­ti­ful day."

To­day fea­tures the re­verse sin­gles, and fin­ishes with dou­bles, when Al­ize Cor­net and Pauline Par­men­tier face Czechs Barbora Strycova and Lu­cie Hradecka.

De­pend­ing on how the tie goes, Mau­resmo could send out Gar­cia and Mlade­n­ovic in the dou­bles. They won the French Open, and came from a set down to win the de­ci­sive rub­ber against the Nether­lands in the semi­fi­nals.

In the first match de­fend­ing cham­pion Czech Repub­lic took a 1-0 lead over France in the Fed Cup af­ter sixth-ranked Karolina Pliskova won a marathon third set against Kristina Mlade­n­ovic.

Pliskova re­cov­ered from a sec­ond-set blip to beat Mlade­n­ovic 63, 4-6, 16-14 af­ter the French player came close to achiev­ing a stun­ning come­back on the in­door hard­court at Rhenus Sport arena.

Pliskova used her deep ground­strokes to take con­trol of the match at first but showed her nerves mid­way through the sec­ond set, al­low­ing Mlade­n­ovic back into the match with a se­ries of mis­takes.

Mlade­n­ovic then ral­lied from 52 down in the de­cider and saved two match points with two big serves, in­clud­ing an ace, to level at 9-9. The French­woman cracked on her serve in the 30th game when she was bro­ken at love.

Mlade­n­ovic got off to a ner­vous start and was bro­ken on her first ser­vice game of the match af­ter hit­ting a dou­ble-fault. Pliskova, on the other hand, looked com­fort­able and quickly found her range with big fore­hand win­ners and deep re­turns.

Po­si­tioned well in­side the court, the U.S. Open run­ner-up dic­tated from the base­line but Mlade­n­ovic grad­u­ally found her rhythm and put her op­po­nent un­der pres­sure in the sixth game with a se­ries of good re­turns. Mlade­n­ovic con­verted her third chance when Pliskova dou­ble-faulted.

The change in mo­men­tum did not last long, though, as Pliskova cap­i­tal­ized on her op­po­nent's poor sec­ond serve to break in the next game. Mlade­n­ovic saved one set point at 5-3 but another dou­ble fault gifted Pliskova the opener.

The trend con­tin­ued early in the sec­ond set as the Czech dis­played her vast ar­ray of shots to keep Mlade­n­ovic at bay.

But Pliskova put her­self into trou­ble when she dou­ble-faulted four times in the sev­enth game to drop her serve and bring Mlade­n­ovic back in the match.

Once again the big-hit­ting Mlade­n­ovic failed to hold when it mat­tered and Pliskova broke back be­fore be­ing un­done by her mis­takes in the next game. This time, Mlade­n­ovic did not let her nerves get the bet­ter of her, fir­ing a deep fore­hand win­ner on her first set point to level.

Pliskova broke in the sixth game of the de­cider but failed to hold when she served for the match at 5-3. With the set at 9-9, Mlade­n­ovic re­ceived med­i­cal treat­ment at the changeover and re­turned on court with her left thigh ban­daged. She did not seem ham­pered in her moves af­ter­ward, get­ting in­volved in long ral­lies al­though she tried to shorten points at the net.

Pliskova fi­nally won — tak­ing the 30th game with ease — in a match that lasted 3 hours, 48 min­utes.

Caro­line Gar­cia

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