U.S., FRANCE TIED 1-1
AFTER FED CUP SEMIFINAL DAY 1
Ashley Marshall | April 14, 2018
AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France – The Fed Cup semifinal between the U.S. and France is finely poised going into the final day of play, after each nation's top player recorded a singles victory on Day 1.
Inside the Arena du Pays d'Aix on Saturday, reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens gave the U.S. a 1-0 advantage with a battling 7-6, 7-5 win over French world No. 122 Pauline Parmentier, before Vandeweghe fell to Les Bleues' top-ranked player, Kristina Mladenovic, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, in the second match.
The results leave both countries needing to win two of the three remaining matches – two singles and one doubles – on Sunday to earn a spot in November's final.
"It was obviously a tough day," U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi said. "They were both great matches, great battles. It’s 1-1, we’re going to come out strong tomorrow, we’re going to get ready and come out and compete again."ADVERTISEMENT
Sunday's play is scheduled to see Stephens (pictured above) face Mladenovic in a battle of each nation's No. 1s, followed by Vandeweghe against Parmentier.
The doubles match is currently scheduled to see Madison Keys and Bethanie Mattek-Sands face Mladenovic and Amandine Hesse, although the lineups for all three matchups may be changed by the captains prior to play.
After Stephens put the U.S. on the board, Team USA captain Kathy Rinaldi looked to Vandeweghe, who had won her past 13 Fed Cup matches between singles and doubles, to double the advantage for the visitors.
After 31 minutes, that looked exactly like what would happen, as Vandeweghe blew through the first set for the loss of just one game.
"Well, I just think she came out with a tremendous high percentage of everything she was trying to do," Mladenovic said. "There’s a reason why she broke into Top 10 last year. She’s very powerful, serving big and playing big, and sometimes there’s not much you can do. Couldn’t really instill my game over there. I thought I didn’t return well. Honestly, not much I could do. I felt like she was making everything she wanted."
Since the World Group format was instituted in 1995, the U.S. has never lost a Fed Cup tie after leading 2-0, so it was vital for the French for Mladenovic to get back into the match.
And that's exactly what she did, riding the energy and support of the home crowd to storm back at Vandeweghe and demonstrate the kind of fight that yesterday earned her the Fed Cup Heart Award at the official draw ceremony.
Mladenovic pushed the opening set aside almost instantly, breaking at the first opportunity and establishing a 3-0 lead.
After the lightning-quick first set, the early break gave the French crowd something for which to cheer, and they rose as one to try and lift their top star.
The drumbeats became more vigorous, and the trombones and trumpets grew in volume as the sense of belief began to return, but Vandeweghe held for 3-1, broke to love and tied the set at 3-3, as the dedicated American fans in attendance broke out into their own rendition of “That’s the Way I Like It.”
The change in momentum ended as swiftly as it began.
Mladenovic won the final three games of the set, breaking Vandeweghe to lead 5-3 before serving it out with an unreturnable body serve and an ace down the middle.
"I was keep believing and telling myself she would give me some opportunities and not play like this for entire two sets without giving me any opportunities," Mladenovic said. "So I went back out there, I served a pretty good first game and dig deep and keep on fighting and at some point trying to be smart.
"As we were on clay, it’s my favorite surface, and I was trying to put some more angles, some more spin, winning some points with slices, and eventually it turned around a little bit, and then I really felt like mentally I came back strong in the game."
The French fans responded by singing their national anthem for the second time in the day, as the players went back to their chairs.
Vandeweghe saved a pair of break points to begin the third set, but she was punished when she failed to do enough with a routine volley, and Mladenovic burned her at the net with a backhand cross-court pass. The following point, the American double faulted to hand the break back to the French and keep the momentum firmly with the hosts.
A second break gave Mladenovic a 3-0 cushion, and serving at 40-15, she had two chances to go up, 4-0. But Vandeweghe fought back to deuce, and one could sense the tide turning once more.
After earning a break point, she took a deep breath, straightened her skirt and adjusted her ponytail. She smacked the red dirt from the soles of her shoes and reset, almost instantly. When Mladenovic’s backhand drifted long, Vandeweghe erupted in emotion, screaming toward her coach, the U.S. bench and the fans seated behind it.
The comeback proved to be short lived, however, as Mladenovic broke back for a 4-1 lead, when Vandeweghe was unable to make a pair of mid-court balls that stayed low on a surface that rarely suits her game.
Vandeweghe held serve at 1-5 to extend the play inside the Arena du Pays d’Aix, but the world No. 20 sent the home fans away with a share of the spoils by serving out the match.
"I think, obviously, we have to come out and compete and find a way to win and out-compete our opponents, and that’s what we’re here to do," Rinaldi said. "I think the girls battled hard and left everything out on the court. I can’t ask for more than that.
"This is a semifinal. We knew it was going to be tough. The crowd, I thought the players embraced that well and handled that extremely well. Tomorrow we’re going to come out and take it one match at a time and compete again."
For French captain Yannick Noah, the tie becomes a best-of-three. And while he knows his side could have been up 2-0, he also acknowledged it could have been the other way around.
"So much going on, emotions. It comes down to a couple points can change the whole vibration, the whole feeling of the game," Noah said. "I thought we had the first match. I thought we had it. We’re in front, whether it was like the way she played but also mental, then all of a sudden it slipped away. It came down to a couple points, and then the whole thing changes.
“Then it was the same in the second match but the other way around, where Coco was playing so well. She didn’t miss a shot for a set, and we were just hoping that she would have a let down for a couple games, which happened. And when it happened, then Kiki got into it, and then Kiki played really, really well. It’s about winning three matches. All the games, whether it’s Fed Cup or Davis Cup, always the same way, so close all the time. We could have been 2-0 down."