STEPHENS GIVES U.S.
1-0 FED CUP LEAD IN FRANCE
Ashley Marshall | April 21, 2018
AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France – Sloane Stephens earned her first Fed Cup singles victory on foreign soil by battling past Pauline Parmentier to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead against France in the best-of-5 semifinal on Saturday.
Stephens saved five set points when she was down a break at 2-5 in the first set, and she was forced to rally back from another break down in the second to secure a 7-6, 7-5 victory.
"It was great," Stephens said. "Obviously Fed Cup is super special. I haven’t gotten that many wins in Fed Cup play so I was really happy to get that one today."
It marks the third time Stephens has defeated the 32-year-old in four tries, but the first time on clay.
Since 1995, when the World Group format was established, Team USA is 30-2 when winning the first singles match of a tie. However, both previous losses have been in ties held on red clay – in Austria in 2004 and in Italy in 2015.ADVERTISEMENT
World No. 9 Stephens is now 4-5 overall in Fed Cup play, including 3-4 in singles. Playing in her sixth Fed Cup tie, the reigning US Open champion picked up her first singles win on the road after previously dropping two singles matches in Belarus in the 2017 final.
Stephens struggled to find her rhythm early on, and she often appeared equal parts frustrated and anxious.
She earned a break in the very first game, but Parmentier broke twice in a row to establish a 4-1 lead.
The American questioned several calls overruled on the baseline, the latter of which saw U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi speaking with the chair umpire for clarification.
With Stephens serving at 2-5, it appeared as if luck, as well as the decisions, were going against the U.S. team. Parmentier broke her strings on a return but still made the ball. Stephens drew her into the net with a short reply, but Parmentier used touch and guile to guide the ball back over the net for a clean winner, much to the delight of Yannick Noah and the French bench as Parmentier scampered across to swap sticks.
But Stephens’ will held firm, and with it came a hold of serve. Considering Stephens was far from her best on a surface that favored her opponent, it can be argued which was more important.
But even though the momentum and the noise from the crowd made it feel like Parmentier was well in front, the American was still only a break down. And that was rectified in the very next game, when Parmentier was unable to handle a backhand down the line that brought the set back on serve.
Stephens saved the first set point with a cross-court forehand and the second with booming ground strokes that dragged Parmentier corner to corner. A fortuitous net cord from a forehand in the middle of the baseline gave the French a third chance, while a wild Stephens backhand added a fourth. A fifth break point came and went for Parmentier, and Stephens made her pay, as she sent the set to a tiebreak after 72 minutes.
"It was a battle," Stephens said. "She played really well today and I was just happy that I was able to just keep fighting and stay in the match. Even when I was down set point, I was able to play good tennis."
The American established a 4-2 lead in the tiebreak, then guessed correctly on a Parmentier passing shot to put away a forehand volley at the net for 5-2. An inside-out Parmentier forehand later saved one set point, but Stephens served it out at the second try to ride out a nervous rollercoaster of emotions against her lower-ranked opponent.
In the second set, Parmentier saved a break point in each of her first two games before inching ahead 4-3 with a break in the seventh game.
The 32-year-old had four chances to go up 5-3, but it was Stephens who won the most crucial game of the set, capitalizing on her fourth break point to draw level.
Even though Parmentier was Stephens' equal throughout the match, she found herself serving to stay in it, first at 4-5 and then again at 5-6.
The second time proved too much to ask, however, as a forehand error gave Stephens match point, and a winner down the line sealed the victory for the U.S.
"Just keep fighting," Stephensa said. "I was going to get my opportunities so I just wanted to make sure that I stayed in the match and made her play as much as possible.
"It’s awesome. I’m just here to help my team get to the final. I came here to win so I’m happy to get my team up 1-0."
Coco Vandeweghe will now play French No. 1 Kristina Mladenovic in the second match to close out play on Day 1 at the Arena du Pays d'Aix.
Vandeweghe will be looking to leave the U.S. in a dominant position headed into Sunday. The U.S. has never lost a tie after leading 2-0.