Mlade­n­ovic to face Toml­janovic first in Fed Cup fi­nal

With debu­tant Ajla Toml­janovic set to take on France’s top player Kristina Mlade­n­ovic in the opener, Aus­tralia’s world num­ber one Ash­leigh Barty plays the sec­ond sin­gles tie on Satur­day against Caro­line Gar­cia

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Aus­tralia’s Ajla Toml­janovic will be aim­ing to prove her se­lec­tion in sin­gles -- in place of vet­eran Sa­man­tha Sto­sur -- right, as the debu­tant takes on France’s top player Kristina Mlade­n­ovic in Satur­day’s open­ing match of the Fed Cup fi­nal. Cap­tain Ali­cia Mo­lik on Fri­day gam­bled with Toml­janovic in­stead of Sto­sur to play sin­gles.

World num­ber one and French Open cham­pion Ash­leigh Barty plays the sec­ond sin­gles rub­ber on Satur­day on the hard­courts of Perth Arena against Caro­line Gar­cia in what are ex­pected to be sti­fling hot con­di­tions.

Those four play­ers are sched­uled to be part of the re­verse sin­gles on Sun­day, although that can change, be­fore a po­ten­tially de­ci­sive dou­bles clash, where the mas­sively ex­pe­ri­enced Sto­sur is set to part­ner Barty against Gar­cia and Mlade­n­ovic.

It means Aus­tralian young guns Astra Sharma and Priscilla Hon will cheer from the side­lines, along with France’s Al­ize Cor­net, Fiona Ferro and Pauline Par­men­tier.

Pick­ing Toml­janovic was a bold move by Mo­lik as Aus­tralia bid for a first ti­tle in 45 years, with Sto­sur her coun­try’s most suc­cess­ful ever sin­gles player, span­ning 16 years of Fed Cup ac­tion.

But she has been strug­gling over re­cent times, in con­trast to Croa­t­ian-born Toml­janovic, who only re­cently be­came el­i­gi­ble for Aus­tralia, who has had a good year and spent most of it in­side the world’s top 50.

“It is ex­cep­tion­ally tough to de­cide your two sin­gles play­ers for day one. For us it was a mater of match-ups and I feel like we are go­ing in with our strong­est two play­ers for Satur­day,” said Mo­lik.

“I feel like it’s the right de­ci­sion... within this team every­one brought such a high level in prac­tice. It has been dif­fi­cult, sets have been very close and that’s re­ally the way that we want it. It should be a tough de­ci­sion.” Seven-time cham­pi­ons Aus­tralia have not tasted suc­cess in the tour­na­ment since 1974, while France are aim­ing for a third crown and first since 2003.

France cap­tain Julien Ben­neteau has kept faith with the team who sealed their semi-fi­nal win over Ro­ma­nia, with Mlade­n­ovic, ranked 40, and 45th-ranked Gar­cia shoul­der­ing the bur­den again in Perth.

“I have five very good play­ers who are ready to go, but for me and my staff the best op­tions are Caro­line and Kristina,” he said.

“We have full con­fi­dence in them to bring us two points (on Satur­day).

“We know that dur­ing a Fed Cup week­end there are a lot of emo­tions and phys­i­cally tough matches, so we know we have a lot of op­tions for Sun­day,” he added.

Barty comes into the de­cider in red hot form, win­ning the WTA Fi­nal in China last week­end, and she has made clear her sea­son will only be com­plete if she can steer her coun­try to Fed Cup glory.

“These are the weeks that I love, that I cher­ish, play­ing in a Fed Cup fi­nal at home is re­ally pre­cious and all of us are go­ing to make the most of it this week­end,” said the 23-year-old, who is on a 14-match Fed Cup win streak.

The omens don’t bode well -- Aus­tralia have lost the last eight Fed Cup fi­nals they have con­tested since win­ning their last one in 1974.

Gar­cia said France los­ing the 2016 fi­nal to the Czech Repub­lic was ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion for her team.

“It was an ex­pe­ri­ence and it’s a pos­i­tive,” she said. “We have noth­ing to lose. We have to go for it from the first match to the last one.”

The fi­nale marks 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.

Ajla Toml­janovic will face French num­ber one Kristina Mlade­n­ovic in the first sin­gles of the Fed Cup fi­nal at the Perth Arena on Satur­day.

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