Opposed to Czech Republic, the BNP Paribas Fed Cup French team is about to play its fifth final in the competition and looking to win a third title, after 1997 and 2003. Since the first edition to these days, the « tricolores’ » journeys have been paved by emblematic players which we remember with pleasure…
Françoise Dürr, the pioneer
For ever, Françoise Dürr will remain as the first French player to have taken part in a Fed Cup match for France. It was on June 17th, 1963 at London’s Queen’s Club, during the inaugural edition of what was then called the Federation Cup. A first match lost against the West-German Edda Buding, but a defeat with no consequences, and pretty insignificant regarding the rest of her career with the national team, as the French number 1 of the time, leader of the delegation, then qualified for numerous quarter and semi-finals, often losing against a pet peeve named Australia, the greatest nation of women’s tennis at the time. The story carried on until the end of the seventies, before her comeback as the captain at the start of the nineties, to help her country found its past ambition, with France playing four semi-finals in a row under her command, between 1993 and 1996.
Gail Chanfreau, the naturalized
In the pioneers’ era, one of the unmissable Françoise Dürr’s teammates was Gail Chanfreau. Born Gail Benedetti in Australia in 1945, she changed her surname at the same time that she changed her nationality in 1968, after marrying the French Jean-Baptiste Chanfreau, another tennis player. The young naturalized woman used her talents on the court to serve her new nation, as she was called up in the Fed Cup team in 1969. In the year 1975, it was as the leader of the team that Gail Chanfreau led the « Bleus » to the semi-final of the competition, where they face a bitter defeat in Aix-en-Provence against Czechoslovakia which could count on a certain Martina Navratilova. Divorced, then married twice again, the Franco-Australian is today named Gail Sherriff, after having also been known as Gail Lovera.
Catherine Tanvier, the camouflage
At the start of the eighties, France was having a hard time since Françoise Dürr’s retirement. The captain Jean-Paul Loth then decided to give a young talent named Catherine Tanvier a chance on the big stage of the BNP Paribas Fed Cup, who, for her first call-up in 1981, was only ranked world number 173. A good inspiration : the blonde with the eternal bandana ended up being a great figure in the team for a good chunk of the decade, with an honorable record of 9 wins in 16 matches played. At the time, France was facing a generational gap and Tanvier was the only reason to hope for the supporters. She was notably the main artisan of the tricolores’ best performance of the eighties : a quarter-final lost against Czechoslovakia, again, in 1984, along with Catherine Suire and Marie-Christine Calleja.
Nathalie Tauziat, the recordwoman
Given a chance at a very young age, in 1985, by Patrick Favière, the captain at the time, Nathalie Tauziat went on to become the team’s boss…for more than 15 years. Her 38 caps are a record, as are her 51 matches played in the singles or doubles with her favorite partner, Isabelle Demongeot. Her only big failure ? Her surprise defeat against the unknown Pole Katarzyna Nowak in 1991, as the French Fed Cup team, knocked out to the surprise of many in the first round, nourished big ambitions during that year. She however played a decisive part in the 1997 title, notably in the first round against Japan, by winning an epic match against Naoko Sawamatsu, 17-15 in the third round, and 54 games played in total, a record in the history of the BNP Paribas Fed Cup which still stands today. A woman of records, this Nathalie Tauziat.
Sandrine Testud, to write history
In 1997, France won the BNP Paribas Fed Cup for the very first time, dominating the Dutch on their grounds in the final on October 4th and 5th. During this memorable weekend, the history books will remember that it was Sandrine Testud who scored the decisive point. She had began her adventure with the national team during the semi-final against Belgium, replacing an injured Mary Pierce. An inspiration which came from the captain Yannick Noah. Testud payed him back for his trust in her, by defeating Brenda Schultz-McCarthy on the first day in ’s-Hertogenbosch to launch this final, before winning her second match in the singles on the next day against Miriam Oremans, despite losing the first set 0-6 in 23 minutes ! Testud, Pierce, Tauziat and Fusai wrote history, as well as their captain, who won the Davis Cup and the BNP Paribas Fed Cup in a year’s time.
Mary Pierce, the most trophies
International player at 15 years old in 1990 at the same time as Julie Halard, Mary Pierce then represented the future of French tennis. A great responsibility, which the Franco-American, born in Montreal, lived up to, becoming the best french tennis player of the following decade, on an individual level (two Grand Slam tournaments, 18 WTA titles, a world number 3 spot) as with the French team, despite a few bumps linked to a varying personality, which wasn’t always compatible with life in a group…Episodically absent from the French team, Mary Pierce was there in 1997 to take part in the conquest of the first BNP Paribas Fed Cup against the Netherlands. She was there again in 2003 for the second French title - and last to this day - with win against Russia in the semi-final and the United States in the final. Which makes her the player with the best international record in the history of french tennis.
Amélie Mauresmo, the best ratio
For the second title in 2003, Amélie Mauresmo was leading the French troops. Thrown out on the international stage by Yannick Noah five years earlier, her debuts had been complicated to say the least : she was there during the disastrous defeat (0-5) of the title holder in the semi-final against Hingis and Schnyder’s Switzerland. A hard way to learn but many things to remember for Mauresmo, who scored the winning point in 2003 against the American Meghann Shaughnessy. Despite losing both following finals in 2004 and 2005 (both against Russia), she still holds the record for the biggest number of victories for France in the BNP Paribas Fed Cup (32, in front and Dürr and Tuziat’s 31), and one of the best ratios (73% win percentage). Since her nomination as the captain in 2012, she brought the team back from the play-offs II to the final, this year against Czech Republic. Essential.
Kristina Mladenovic, the succession
Since Pierce and Mauresmo’s retirement, France has had trouble finding new solid leaders : Golovin, Bartoli, Cornet have had their chance, but the player which incarnates the most the « Bleu spirit » these days is certainly Kristina Mladenovic. Always capable of transcending herself in the BNP Paribas Fed Cup, « Kiki » has already won 12 matches in only 9 call-ups since her debut with the team in 2012 ! Undefeated in the doubles, with whatever partner (Razzano, Foretz, Cornet, Parmentier, Garcia), capable of producing nice performances in the singles (she’s notably defeated Errani twice), she’s the French team’s main asset, before the fifth final of it’s history against the Czech.