Fed Cup: Karolina Pliskova gives the Czech Republic the lead after epic battle with Kristina Mladenovic

In a match that finished just under four hours, Karolina Pliskova edged the Frenchwoman 6-3, 4-6, 16-14 in an absolute thriller.

Fed Cup: Karolina Pliskova gives the Czech Republic the lead after epic battle with Kristina Mladenovic
Relief on Pliskova's face after the match eventually concluded | Photo: Fed Cup
Czech Republic
1 0
France

Karolina Pliskova took on good friend and France'Kristina Mladenovic in the first singles rubber in the Fed Cup finals. The fans in the arena got their money’s worth as the pair battled out for a total of three hours and 48 minutes with the deciding set stretching for more than two hours. Both women gave everything and in the end after 30 games in the third set, Pliskova eventually triumphed Mladenovic to give the Czech Republic the lead.

Double faults key in a nervy first set

Pliskova chose to receive and it paid off perfectly as a nervy Mladenovic sent a double fault to hand the immediate break to the Czech. The Czech looked nervous but came up with a good hold to consolidate the break. Mladenovic eventually got onto the scoreboard but still looked to be nervous. The Frenchwoman finally got her first chance after an unfortunate double fault but could not capitalize sending her aggressive return over the baseline. A couple of big serves gave Pliskova game points but pressure from Mladenovic was mounting. And on her third opportunity, the pressure got to the Czech who handed the break back with a double fault for 3-3.

Pliskova with some good holds but faltered to hand the break back | Photo: Fed Cup
Pliskova with some good holds but faltered to hand the break back | Photo: Fed Cup

However, the Frenchwoman squandered the chance to take the lead. Down 0-40 in the seventh game, Mladenovic saved two of the break points before succumbing after a stunning return from Pliskova. The Czech extended her lead to 5-3 forcing Mladenovic to serve to stay in the set. The Frenchwoman looked shaky and a double fault gave Pliskova an early set point. Mladenovic survived momentarily with a big serve but a wayward slice gave the Czech another set point and this time the Frenchwoman gifted it with her fourth double fault of the match.

Pliskova riding out the opening set to take it 6-3 | Photo: Fed Cup
Pliskova riding out the opening set to take it 6-3 | Photo: Fed Cup

Mladenovic fights back

While Pliskova continued looking comfortable on her service games, Mladenovic was made to work harder on her own games in the second set. The Frenchwoman was unable to make any headway on the Czech’s serve as three straight love holds gave Pliskova a 3-2 lead. Mladenovic finally got some room to breathe with a relatively easier hold to level for 3-3.

It all somehow fell apart for Pliskova though with three double faults in a row handing the Frenchwoman her first chances to take the lead in the second set. The chances were snuffed with some big forehands from the Czech but a huge return from Mladenovic set up another break point. Pliskova’s serve let her down yet again, though, with a double fault giving Mladenovic the first break in the set and a 4-3 lead.

Mladenovic benefits from errors to take an important lead in the second set | Photo: Fed Cup
Mladenovic benefits from errors to take an important lead in the second set | Photo: Fed Cup

It was almost the case of the first set though as Mladenovic looked to be in trouble of giving the break right back. Trailing 15-40, she came up with some good shots to get herself back to deuce but the Frenchwoman wobbled once again allowing Pliskova to get back on serve for 4-4. Mladenovic was not fazed though showing she still got it with some great play earning a break point in the ninth game. Pliskova’s shot going wide to the jubilation of the French crowd as Mladenovic broke for a 5-4 lead. This time the Frenchwoman held her nerves and composure and served it out to bring the match to a deciding set.

Mladenovic fired up as she closes out the second set | Photo: Fed Cup
Mladenovic fired up as she closes out the second set | Photo: Fed Cup

30-game third set eventually edged by Pliskova

The third set was another tight affair with Mladenovic having to save a break point after being 40-0 up on her serve as she held for 1-1 at the start of the second set. Momentum looked to have shifted the way of the Frenchwoman for a bit as Pliskova trailed 0-30 on her serve but the Czech remained composed to see it out for 2-1. Both women looked to have found their rhythm on serve though as the match continued on serve.

However, in the sixth game, Pliskova turned up the intensity with some fine returns and her shots of depth troubling the Frenchwoman as she conjured triple break points. A couple of huge serves under pressure helped Mladenovic two of the three break points but she followed it up with a poor shot selection allowing the Czech to extend her lead to 4-2 in the decider.

Pliskova pulling away in the decider | Photo: Fed Cup
Pliskova pulling away in the decider | Photo: Fed Cup

Pliskova dug out an important hold to consolidate her break for 5-2 to come within a game from clinching the first win for the Czech Republic. Mladenovic doing what she had to, coming up with an important hold to make Pliskova serve for the match. The crowd fired up the Frenchwoman, who gave everything and set up a couple of break points with a massive return. The pressure got to the Czech and Mladenovic found the break back to get back on serve for 4-5.

Mladenovic fights and pegs back the Czech to get back on serve | Photo: Fed Cup
Mladenovic fights and pegs back the Czech to get back on serve | Photo: Fed Cup

The match had intensified and in a must-hold game, Mladenovic came up with a huge hold to level for 5-5. The French number two got herself in a spot of bother going down 0-30 at 5-6 but the brave Frenchwoman came up with the goods when she needed to hang on for 6-6. As the match progressed with no tiebreak, it was starting to take a toll on Mladneovic as cramps started to trouble the Frenchwoman and she faced match points serving at 8-9. Mladenovic was finding something from within though fending off Pliskova bravely to hang on before taking a medical timeout for a thigh problem at 9-9. The Czechs questioned the timing of the timeout as Pliskova was forced to wait to serve.

Pliskova fails to convert match points | Photo: Fed Cup
Pliskova fails to convert match points | Photo: Fed Cup

Mladenovic with her thigh wrapped continued fighting and she got her reward drawing errors from the Czech to set up break point in the 21st game. However, the Frenchwoman netted her shot and Pliskova survived to resume the lead once more for 11-10. Mladenovic would not go away and was seemingly getting stronger. A double fault and an error from the Czech gave the Frenchwoman chance to break and Mladenovic capitalized with aplomb for the crucial break to lead 12-11.

Mladenovic gets the crucial break | Photo: Fed Cup
Mladenovic gets the crucial break | Photo: Fed Cup

However, the match still had another twist left. Mladenovic wasted her opportunity to see it out and the match was back to square at 12-12. The Frenchwoman was on the verge of breaking again but a weak return then sent the chance begging allowing Pliskova to regain the lead for 13-12. Time was ticking away and neither looked to bow down but the pressure of serving second eventually got to the Frenchwoman as Pliskova capitalized to end the marathon of a match after three hours and 48 minutes.