MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic prevailed in a tense duel with Pauline Parmentier to level the Fed Cup final at 2-2 and force a doubles decider in Perth on Sunday.
Australia needed their number two to step up in the wake of Ash Barty’s shock defeat by Kristina Mladenovic, and the Croatia-born 26-year-old duly delivered with a rousing 6-4 7-5 win on debut in front of a baying crowd of 13,841.
Smashed 6-1 6-1 by Mladenovic in the opening singles on Saturday, a transformed Tomljanovic soaked up huge pressure against the French veteran Parmentier to sustain Australia’s bid for a first Fed Cup title in 45 years.
Mladenovic had earlier pulled France 2-1 ahead with a brave 2-6 6-4 7-6(1) win over world number one Barty.
France team captain Julien Benneteau then withdrew Caroline Garcia from the second singles, entrusting Parmentier to seal the final. But it was not to be.
Garcia was crushed 6-0 6-0 by Barty on Saturday after Tomljanovic endured a similarly torrid 6-1 6-1 loss to Mladenovic in the opening singles.
Mladenovic’s inspired win over Barty snapped the Australia’s run of 15 consecutive Fed Cup wins.
“Julien and all the crowd and my team mates, we kept on fighting every single point,” the emotional 26-year-old said courtside.
“That’s the way I love to play my tennis.
“Ashleigh’s world number one, she’s just a huge champion. I lost the first set but then it was about details.
“I just kept believing because I felt I was just out there fighting and giving a hard battle and I’m just so proud how I kept pushing and obviously won at the end.”
Battling the crowd and one of the cleverest all-court opponents in the game, Mladenovic stumbled on the road to victory as Barty broke back twice in the decisive set.
But the French number one served up a storm in the tiebreak and collapsed in relief after Barty finally surrendered with a forehand slapped into the net.
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Richard Pullin & Shri Navaratnam