Johanna Konta played superbly to beat Kurumi Nara 6-4 6-2 and level the score in Great Britain’s Fed Cup World Cup Group II Play-Off with Japan.
It was an impressive display of nerve from the British No.1, who had to win the match to ensure her team retained a realistic chance of victory in the tie after Naomi Osaka overpowered Heather Watson 6-2 6-3 in the first match.
Konta started the match in ideal fashion. She signalled her intentions by hitting a huge backhand return to win the first point, followed that with an excellent forehand winner and sealed the break when Nara hit a backhand long.
The Japanese player got almost everything back in the next game, and at one stage the British No.1 hit two consecutive aces as she was forced to save three break points in order to hold serve.
Amazingly, the five break points in the opening two games were the only ones in the set. Both Konta and Nara served well and struck their groundstrokes with skill and purpose, and the score rattled along to 5-4 in Britain’s favour without any drama.
Then the nerves kicked in for the British No.1. She breezed to 40-15 on her serve, but double faulted and hit a backhand long to let her Japanese opponent back into the game.
Konta earned two more set points with big serves and powerful backhands, and took the second after a forehand from Nara went just wide.
Despite its more emphatic scoreline, the second set was closely fought and the British No.1 had to draw on all her qualities to win it.
Konta came out on top in a seemingly endless stream of long rallies to break twice in the first three games after they all went to deuce.
However, Nara turned the tables in game four by breaking back during another tight game. She then held serve to put the British No.1 under pressure.
At this stage of the match, Konta found another gear. She held serve comfortably and then hit a series of superb backhands to regain the double break, before holding again with ease to close out the match.
“(Nara) definitely used the energy of the crowd,” said Konta in her on-court interview. “She made it really hard for me out there.”
The Brit continued, “I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy match and that I was going to have to earn my way to get an opportunity to come through as the winner today.”
Great Britain Fed Cup captain Anne Keothavong was understandably pleased with Konta’s performance.
“Jo put in a fantastic performance,” she said in her on-court interview. “She kept a high level. I thought her opponent was also able to raise her level, but Jo was just too good.”
Osaka overpowers Watson
Osaka produced an excellent performance to beat Watson in straight sets. The Japanese used all her power to hit several huge serves and plenty of spectacular groundstrokes.
The British No.2 initially coped well. She used her defensive abilities to great effect to make Osaka play extra balls and almost earned a break in game three. However, the Japanese saved the break point with an ace.
The Brit made life difficult for herself in game four when she made two errors and a double fault to slip down 0-40. She recovered to 30-40, but Osaka hammered a forehand winner down the line to seal the break.
And the Japanese No.1 never looked back. She blazed through her next two service games in the blink of an eye to lead 5-2, and then Watson double-faulted twice to give her the game she needed to seal the set.
The British No.2 made a good start to the first game of the second set and earned two break points, but Osaka did not give her any chance to capitalise on them as she thundered down two aces and another huge serve to set up the hold.
Watson saved two break points in the next game with some well-judged aggression and an excellent forehand winner, but it was only a temporary respite.
The Brit was unable to cope with Osaka’s powerful groundstrokes and, although she fought hard during a long game, the Japanese eventually got the break she wanted with three fantastic winners in succession.
Watson kept it to one break and threw everything she had at Osaka as she tried to break the Japanese No.1 when she was serving for the match.
But ultimately it was not enough, as Osaka saved two break points with brilliant backhand winners before taking her second match point when the British No.2 netted a forehand.
“I was really relieved I was able to win because this is my first Fed Cup tie here,” said Osaka in her on-court interview. “I really wanted to win and make everyone happy.”
Captain Benneteau ‘Proud’ After France Seal First Fed Cup For 16 Years
Kristina Mladenovic won both the matches she was involved with to seal the Fed Cup title for France.
France’s Fed Cup captain Julien Benneteau expressed his pride after France edged out Australia 3-2 in the Fed Cup final.
The visitors claimed their first Fed Cup title for 16 years in Perth after Kristina Mladenovic won both of the matches she was involved with.
It all started after Mladenovic produced one of the greatest wins of her career by edging out world number one Ash Barty 2-6 6-4 7-6(1) in the first match of the day.
Both players had convincing wins on day one and it was the Australian who started the strongest, claiming the first set 6-2.
However Mladenovic struck back in the second set with a crucial break at 5-4 as she closed out the set to force a decider.
There was a lot of momentum shifts in the deciding set but eventually the world number 40 dominated the tiebreak to seal a shock win and a 2-1 lead for France.
Australia hit back in the second rubber of the day as Ajla Tomljanovic produced a solid performance to defeat Pauline Parmentier 6-4 7-5.
After a convincing loss in day one, Tomljanovic produced stunning shot-making to redeem herself and score her first Fed Cup win as an Australian.
The deciding rubber was a highly-anticipated doubles match between Ash Barty and Sam Stosur taking on Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic.
All four players had a combined total of 13 doubles grand slam titles as Australia had a good start to the match but lacked clinical edge after that.
The French team took advantage as they won the last two games of the opening set and the first two games of the second set.
This allowed them to control the tempo and when Stosur hit a volley long, the celebrations could start as they sealed a 6-4 6-3 win.
After the match, Captain Julien Benneteau expressed his pride at his French side, “I’m the proudest man on the planet right now,” Benneteau claimed.
“I’m so proud of my girls and the team, they deserve it because they fought for a long time for this title. It’s a dream for me. I tried to imagine that at the beginning of the year when I knew that I could have the best team with me on the court. Eight months later, here we are.”
The win means it’s France’s third Fed Cup triumph overall and their first since 2003, with Kristina Mladenovic winning all three of the matches she was involved with.
As for Australia, it was emotional scenes as Barty didn’t seem to have enough in the tank to edge the Aussies over the finish line.
This final also means its the last traditional final as the format will now to change a one-week 12 team contest which will take place next April in Budapest.
Ash Barty And Kristina Mladenovic Power To Victory On Day One At Fed Cup Final
Ash Barty and Kristina Mladenovic produced one-sided victories to keep the score level after day one of the Fed Cup Final.
Ash Barty and Kristina Mladenovic produced dominant displays to keep Australia and France level at the end of day one of the Fed Cup Final.
In front of a sold-out RAC Arena in Perth, Australia were bidding for their first Fed Cup title since 1974 as they took on a reunited French team.
However their bid got off to the worst possible start as a nervy Ajla Tomljanovic was stunned by Kristina Mladenovic in 72 minutes.
Hitting 16 winners, the world number 40 pummelled her way past Tomljanovic to hand the visitors the early advantage.
Though the Australian debutant showed moments of brilliance, they were in patches as Mladenovic produced a stunning performance for the French team.
After the match, the doubles grand slam champion admitted she played the perfect match, “I really did almost a perfect match, I was really in the zone,” Mladenovic said in her on-court interview.
“I love these kind of events — the more the pressure it is, the bigger the pressure it is, the more special is the event. I came out there and I just wanted to win, basically.”
As France held the early lead, the pressure was on world number one Ash Barty to deliver and deliver she did in an equally impressive performance.
A 6-0 6-0 thrashing of Caroline Garcia was exactly what Australia ordered as Barty was ruthless in her dismantling of the French number two.
Eight aces helped Barty power past the world number 45 and the 40 degree temperatures as a mix of variety as well as power was evidence why every rubber the hosts of win this year has involved Barty.
After the 56 minute win the world number one explained how she executed her game-plan, “I think just overall today I executed very well. I made Caro pretty uncomfortable,” Barty said.
“I felt like in the first three or four of my service games I was in control of a lot of the points, and Caro is a player who like court position, she likes to be up in the court. So that was a key factor for me today. And that’s probably the best I’ve returned in a long long time.”
It is now 15 wins in a row for Barty in Fed Cup as she takes on Kristina Mladenovic in a crucial third rubber tomorrow.
Then Caroline Garcia is scheduled to take on Ajla Tomljanovic although both teams could be set to make changes depending on the scenario.
Should the two nations split the singles again then the deciding doubles will see Ash Barty and Sam Stosur take on Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic.
Play begins from 3am GMT time tomorrow, in what will be the last day of a traditional Fed Cup Final before the re-formatted version begins next year.
Ash Barty Heads Australia’s Bid To End Their 45-Year Fed Cup Title Drought
Will it be jubilation or heartbreak for team Australian this weekend?
When Australia last won the Fed Cup, none of the participants in this weekend’s final was even born. Including both the team captains.
1974 was the last time the country triumphed in the team tournament. A perhaps surprising statistic for a country who is the third most decorated in the history of the competition. World No.1 Ash Barty will lead her team when they played France on home soil in Perth. It is the first time in almost 20 years the two have locked horns with both being optimistic about their chances of victory.
“When you are playing for your country and you are playing in a Fed Cup final, it is pretty easy to get up and about and be as ready as you can,” said Barty, who recently won the WTA Finals in Shenzhen.
“It’s a format that I love, I cherish it. This is going to be a really precious week.”
Barty’s performance in the final could be critical to Australia’s hopes. She is the only top 50 player in her team, but Ajla Tomljanovic is just outside in 51st place. In comparison, France has four players ranked inside the top 65 in the singles. Kristina Mladenovic is also the current world No.2 in doubles. Something Barty is wary of.
“Kiki has the ability to play well in the big moments,” she told AAP.
“Obviously she was on a bit of a heater in Shenzhen in doubles and she’s a beautiful doubles player. We’ve seen that time and time again.
“I’m sure, without knowing the team until Friday, that her name will feature heavily on Saturday and Sunday.
“So it’s someone I would love to play and try and right my wrongs from midway through the year when we played in Rome.”
Whilst being the visitors, France are by no means intimidated by the occasion. They have only won the title twice before with the most recent occurring back in 2003. Three years ago, they narrowly missed out on winning the trophy after losing the final match in their tie against the Czech Republic.
Caroline Garcia was one of the Frenchwomen who featured in the 2016 final. She believes that loss has made France even stronger.
“That final was a great lesson for me and all of us,” Garcia reflects. “We now have the experience of losing and we don’t want to have the feeling of losing a final again. We have been there before, whereas the Australian girls haven’t. It is an important factor for us.”
Ajla Tomljanovic has been chosen to open up Australia’s campaign on Saturday against Mladenovic. The match will be her first ever representing her country in the Fed Cup. The former Croatian No.1 was recently approved to play for Australia following an appeal to the ITF. A somewhat controversial decision in the aftermath of Aljaz Bedene’s failed attempt to represent Great Britain a couple years ago.
Tomljanovic was picked ahead of veteran player Sam Stosur. The 35-year-old has played 57 Fed Cup matches in her career and has played in 31 ties. She has won more singles matches in the competition than any other Australian player in history.
“It is exceptionally tough to decide your two singles players for day one. For us it was a matter of match-ups and I feel like we are going in with our strongest two players for Saturday,” said team captain Alicia 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.”
As for the second singles match, Barty will take on Garcia. They are currently level at 2-2 in their head-to-head, But Barty won their most recent meeting at the Wuhan Open this year. However French captain, Julien Benneteau, is confident in his players.
“In the first two rounds (against Belgium and Romania), we proved that we could win with different players in singles. It is an advantage,” he stated.
The final will start on Saturday at 11:00 local time (0300 GMT).
(VIDEO) Vintage Federer Sends Djokovic Packing, Nadal Clinches Year-End No.1
Novak Djokovic Confident Elbow Scare Will Not Hamper Davis Cup Duty
Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek end the season with a win over Rain Klaasen and Michael Venus
Roger Federer Ends Djokovic’s Year-End No.1 Bid With Vital Win At ATP Finals
Loss Meaningless To Dominic Thiem In Hunt For ‘Most Difficult’ Title At ATP Finals
Three Things To Know About Rafael Nadal’s Wedding
‘I Wasn’t Rude’ – Ubitennis Founder Defends Himself Following Run-In With Nadal In London
Former Top 10 Star Was Drunk During Grand Slam Final, Claims Banned Tennis Player
Former Russian Tennis Star Turned Coach Alexander Volkov Dead At 52
Rafael Nadal In Good Shape Ahead Of Bid For Elusive Paris Title, Says Coach
(VIDEO) Roger Federer, Alexander Zverev Guide Europe To Laver Cup Glory
(VIDEO) US Open Day 14: Rafael Nadal Ends The Tournament With An Extraordinary Win
(VIDEO) US Open Day 12: Bianca Andreescu Is The Queen Of New York
(VIDEO) US Open Day 12: Daniil Medvedev Stands In The Way Of Nadal’s 19th Grand Slam Title
(VIDEO) US Open Day 11: Why Bianca Andreescu Toppling Williams Will Not Be A Shock
ATP3 days ago
‘I Wasn’t Rude’ – Ubitennis Founder Defends Himself Following Run-In With Nadal In London
Comments2 days ago
A Rude And Silly Reply From Nadal, I Am Waiting For His Apology
ATP3 days ago
Roger Federer Revives Title Hopes With Win Over Berrettini At ATP Finals
ATP2 days ago
Dominic Thiem First Through To ATP Finals Semis After Epic Win Over Djokovic
ATP2 days ago
Revenge And Redemption On The Mind Of Roger Federer Ahead Of Djokovic Clash
ATP1 day ago
Alexander Zverev Denies Using Phone During Match At ATP Finals
ATP2 days ago
Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus secure their spot in the semifinal in the doubles tournament at the ATP Finals in London
Focus2 days ago
Dominika Cibulkova announces her retirement from tennis