MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s ever-dependable Ash Barty doled out the dreaded double-bagel to Caroline Garcia, leveling the Fed Cup final at 1-1 against France after the opening day’s singles in Perth on Saturday.
On a day of scorching heat, France struck the early blow when Kristina Mladenovic thrashed Ajla Tomljanovic 6-1 6-1, but the terrier-like Barty wrested back the momentum with her 6-0 6-0 rout of Garcia, firing up a heaving crowd at Perth Arena.
World number one Barty will return on Sunday for the reverse singles and doubles, if required, as Australia bid for their first Fed Cup title in 45 years.
“I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect match. That’s probably the best tennis match I’ve ever played in my life,” a thrilled Barty said courtside after extending her unbeaten run in Fed Cup singles to 10 successive matches.
“What a place to do it, this is incredible.”
Australia were wobbling after Tomljanovic’s torrid Fed Cup debut match against Mladenovic, but 23-year-old Barty beamed as she strode onto the blue hardcourt cradling her niece in her arms and soaking up a huge ovation.
That was the last display of tenderness the stocky French Open champion would produce until consoling Garcia with a hug at the net after scarcely 56 minutes of play.
In between was a virtual highlight reel of winners, as Barty, fresh from her WTA Finals triumph in southern China, drew energy from the roaring terraces and drained Garcia of all confidence.
Fans filed out happily but some will hope for a tighter contest on Sunday.
They should get it if Barty meets the impressive Mladenovic, as per the draw.
The French number one, who beat Barty on clay in Rome early in the year, came out swinging against rookie Tomljanovic, who was thrown into the cauldron by team captain Alicia Molik.
With Fed Cup veteran Sam Stosur overlooked for the singles, Molik’s gamble backfired as Croatia-born Tomljanovic, who became eligible to represent Australia only a month ago, quickly crumbled under pressure.
Mladenovic broke her early in a barrage of power hitting and wrapped up the first set in 38 minutes, delighting a rowdy pocket of blue-clad French fans.
Tomljanovic’s meek serve wilted further in the second set as the free-swinging Mladenovic roared on to a victory that gave France hope of a third Fed Cup title and first since 2003.
“That was a statement match,” Barty said of Mladenovic’s procession.
“Kristina was in control and she was able to control the court a little bit, so I think the challenge for me tomorrow is to come out and try to take her out of her comfort zone.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Tom Hogue