Tears flowed. There were tears of unbridled happiness. There were tears of near uncontrollable disappointment. The players of two nations had fought hard to end droughts and after five rubbers of play France was crowned the 2019 champions of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas.
They defeated Australia for the second time in the seven meetings between the two countries, 3-2. The weekend in Perth, Western Australia had gone to the deciding doubles rubber. For France it was just the third time they had won the championship and this one came after a 16-year gap. Australia, not only in the grip of a catastrophic climatic drought, remains parched for this title – for 45 years they have been without the Fed Cup and this defeat was the ninth time they have been the losing finalists since they last won in 1974.
There is no doubt that the player of the weekend was Kiki Mladenovic and her emotions on court were so strong that she genuinely could not get the words out through the tears.
“It's very special,” Miss Mladenovic said. “It's absolutely epic. And for sure, it's one of my nicest moments and emotions on court, even though during the season and in the past years I had the wins over top ten and also against number one. But this one is special because it's, you know, final for the country, for the team in front of an amazing packed crowd. And it's a different environment than on the WTA Tour.”
She won every match she played, and she dashed the hopes of Australia led by the world No.1 Ash Barty, who was the first world No.1 playing a Fed Cup final since Martina Hingis in 1998.
On the first day Miss Mladenovic charged through debutante Ajla Tomljanovic who received approval to play from the ITF just weeks before. When she was still very young, she had played for Croatia so was ineligible to play for Australia for many years, but she appealed and won. Miss Tomljanovic was nervous and Kiki played on that with her experience and gave France the first point of the weekend by winning 6-1, 6-1.
The Ash Barty created a bit of Fed Cup history. She destroyed Caroline Garcia 6-0, 6-0 and that was the first time in a final of the competition, which began in 1963, that a double bagel was recorded.
Day two and it was the first reverse singles that arguably was the croissant that broke Australia’s back. Miss Barty and Miss Mladenovic squared off and if one was to pinpoint one moment in that match that was crucial, it would have been the eighth game of the second set when the Frenchwoman was serving. It was a very, very long game and Ash failed to convert break point. Had she broken she would have been serving for a straight set win and a 2-1 lead.
Instead the reverse happened. France was buoyed. In the second reverse singles Miss Tomljanovic remained but French Captain Julien Benneteau in his first year at the helm, replaced Garcia with Pauline Parmentier. Ajla rose to the occasion and won 6-4, 7-5. It was down to the doubles.
Kiki and Caro took on Ash and Sam Stosur, but Miss Mladenovic was soaring with confidence and was the standout as the French attacked Miss Stosur and powered to a 6-4, 6-3 victory. The French players were spreadeagled on the court in disbelief as the rest of the players charged to their doubles team to start the celebration.
“You can see what this means to all of us,” Miss Barty, who was almost inconsolable on court, said. “Obviously it’s bitterly disappointing to be sitting here not with the result we were after but all in all it’s about taking a little bit of perspective, this team, this group of girls, I wouldn’t want to be sitting here with anyone else.
“It’s been an amazing journey, amazing time of year for us and to be able to be in a Fed Cup final is very precious and it will drive us more for next year.”
The two-day final was the second most attended final ever of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas with over 26,900 spectators; ahead only was the 2005 final when Russia beat France at Roland Garros which attracted about 30,000 to Court Philippe Chatrier.
Interestingly, France has never won the Fed Cup at home and they need to make the most of the trophy because their reign as the champion nation will be the shortest on record. In April 2020 the tournament goes back to the future and will once again be played in a one-week time format. Enjoy the trophy for just five months.