STEPHENS GIVES U.S.
2-1 FED CUP LEAD IN FRANCE
Ashley Marshall | April 21, 2018
AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France – Reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens put Team USA on the brink of a return to the Fed Cup final, with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Kristina Mladenovic on Sunday.
The victory gives the U.S. a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 tie and means the Americans will book their place in November's championship round with a win in either of the final two matches.
"It was a really good win," Stephens said. "I had to conquer my Fed Cup losing streak. I had to get a good win and get the team up, so I’m happy for that."
Madison Keys was substituted in for Coco Vandeweghe in the second singles match, and she will look to seal the victory against Pauline Parmentier.
Should the French level the tie, it will come down to the decisive doubles match, which is currently scheduled to see Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Keys face Mladenovic and Amandine Hesse, although the lineups may be changed before the match.ADVERTISEMENT
Inside the Arena du Pays d'Aix on Sunday, Stephens flashed the kind of form that saw her pick up her first Grand Slam women's singles title in New York last summer.
She looked more confident, more composed and more comfortable on the clay than in her win over Parmentier yesterday, but few would have anticipated how easily she would sweep past Mladenovic. The world No. 9 said she did not expect the scoreline.
"No, you never do," she said. "But I played really solid, so I’m really pleased with that, and I’m happy to get my team up, 2-1."
Stephens recorded 16 winners, eight from each wing, to just 12 unforced errors, compared with Mladenovic, who hit four winners but made 25 miscues.
And while Stephens won 71 percent of points on her first serve and all but one on her second serve, Mladenovic won just 38 percent of the points on her serve, leading to five breaks for the American. Stephens saved the lone break point she faced and reeled off the final seven games inside 30 minutes to lift the U.S. once again.
On Sunday, Stephens consolidated an early break with a lunging backhand down the line to lead 3-1, and she earned a second consecutive break in crafting a 5-1 advantage.
Mladenovic held to stay in the set, but Stephens, serving with new balls, comfortably wrapped up the opener, much to the delight of the traveling American fans cheering behind the Team USA bench.
The American opened up the second set with another break and ripped a backhand winner down the line to grab a 2-0 advantage. Stephens could barely miss, much like Coco Vandeweghe could not in her first set against Mladenovic yesterday, and she quickly went up a double break, as the French world No. 20 faltered repeatedly from the baseline.
Stephens kept up the relentless attack from the back of the court, neutralizing the angles and slices that Mladenovic had so successfully employed to fight back into her match less than 24 hours before.
Stephens stepped inside the court to pound a short ball into the corner for a 4-0 lead, and two more blistering winners, one to each side of the court, put her one game from victory.
An unreturnable serve into the body gave Stephens, who lost both of her singles matches in the 2017 final against Belarus, three match points, and she wrapped up the victory on the third attempt to put the U.S. back in front.
"It would be awesome," Stephens said about a potential trip back to the final. "Kind of avenge how I played in the last final, so hopefully we can get there. Fingers crossed."