France advance to Fed Cup final

FOES UNITE::France coach Julien Benneteau teamed up Carolina Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic for the first time since 2016, when the duo had a falling out


Tue, Apr 23, 2019 - Page 16

France on Sunday set up a Fed Cup final against Australia when Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic, who once were barely on speaking terms, teamed up to crown a 3-2 victory over Romania.

Former Roland Garros doubles champions Garcia and Mladenovic beat Simona Halep and Monica Niculescu 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 to secure the winning point and a final date against Australia in November.

Victory was a diplomatic coup for France coach Julien Benneteau who teamed up Garcia and Mladenovic for the first time in the Fed Cup since 2016, after which the pair had a bitter falling out that led to a self-imposed Fed Cup exile for Garcia, her country’s top player.

“Every match was incredible,” Benneteau said. “I am so proud of them. It was always my intention to put them together — and it was not hard to do.”

Earlier on Sunday, French Open champion Halep won her second singles of the weekend, seeing off Garcia 6-7 (6/8), 6-3, 6-4 for a 2-1 lead in the semi-final.

Veteran Pauline Parmentier then beat a hobbling Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 to pull France level.

“I found out I was playing last night,” Parmentier said. “I didn’t sleep very well and I was awake pretty early, ready to play. This is my best ever Fed Cup singles match. It’s an amazing feeling.”

In a tense deciding rubber, Halep, whose doubles ranking is in the 400s, committed a double fault to concede the break in the ninth game of the final set before Garcia held her nerve to serve out the victory.

France, who won the last of their two titles in 2003, are to travel to Australia for the final.

Six-time champions Australia, whose most recent title was in 1974, reached a first final in 26 years by seeing off Belarus 3-2 in Brisbane in a tie also settled by a three-set deciding doubles rubber.

Halep gave Romania a lead on Saturday by seeing off Mladenovic 6-3, 6-1, before Garcia swept past Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-3, 6-3 to level the tie.

“I knew it would be more difficult than yesterday,” said Halep after registering a ninth successive singles win in a tournament that Romania have yet to win. “She started very fast, hitting the ball very strong, and I think I was a bit slow.”

“It felt like playing at home, that was how I was able to fight to the end. I won it for the fans who came here,” she added.

Halep’s win over Garcia, her sixth in seven meetings, took almost three hours, with the crucial break in the final set coming in the eighth game when the French No. 1 served up back-to-back double faults.