The Fed Cup final last weekend saw hosts France take on the two-time defending champions the Czech Republic. The Rhenus Sport Arena, located in Strasbourg, was the center of tennis action throughout the two-day proceeding. A decisive doubles rubber was needed by the Czech team, for the third tie in a row, to assure their victory as they powered through to deny France its first Fed Cup trophy since 2003.
Last week’s titlist
Hosts France, under the charge of two-time Grand Slam winner and former world number one Amelie Mauresmo, featured the likes of young guns Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic alongside Alizé Cornet and veteran Pauline Parmentier in its line-up. On the other side, the Czech Republic boasted a star-studded field of big-hitters Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova and doubles specialists Barbora Strycova and Lucie Hradecka completing the four-player alignment. The Czechs were headed by Petr Pala.
The first rubber of the final saw Mladenovic go head-to-head with Czech number one Pliskova and the opening match did not disappoint as new history was created. After splitting out the first two sets, Pliskova found herself within touching distance of racking in the first point for her country, racing off to a 5-2 lead in the decider. Mladenovic then rose to the occasion, winning three games in a row to level the score at 5-5.
It eventually took 30 games to decide the winner of the deciding set and the match as Pliskova needed one more break of serve, 25 games later, to win 6-3, 4-6, 16-14. The deciding set took more than two hours to complete, thus becoming the longest set ever (of either discipline) in Fed Cup history. The whole contest took three hours and 48 minutes to finish.
The closing match of the day saw two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova take on the French number one Caroline Garcia. Kvitova dropped her previous meeting against the 23-year-old Garcia in her opener in Cincinnati and a win here would put the Czechs on a solid ground to win the title. Garcia came out the more aggressive of the pair as she grabbed a tight opening set, winning it with a tiebreak and never let go of the foothold, eventually winning the match 7-6(6), 6-3 in an hour and 50 minutes.
The second day of action featured reverse singles rubbers as Pliskova faced Garcia in the first match on court. Garcia carried on her strong momentum from the day before, sprinting past the Czech to win the opening set 6-3. A slight let-down from the Frenchwoman however, saw Pliskova raise her game to level the match at one set apiece, taking the second set 6-3. After a string of service holds in the decider, Garcia caught fire at a crucial moment as she broke Pliskova in the eighth game before serving out the match to win 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, the top-ranked Frenchwoman had now successfully sealed the win in both her singles rubbers.
The following match saw changes in the nominations as Barbora Strycova met Alize Cornet across the net. Strycova filled in for Kvitova, who caught an instep injury and the move proved to be a wise one as the 30-year-old veteran silenced the home crowd with a straight-set win over her opponent. The Czech took the opening set comfortably, dropping just two games but it was Cornet who raced off to a 4-1 lead in the second set. Strycova raised her game henceforth as she denied her opponent the set, coming out on top 6-2, 7-6. The score between both nations were now leveled at 2-2, sending the tie into a decisive doubles rubber.
In the deciding match, France fielded in Doubles Team of the Year, Garcia and Mladenovic, their opponents being Pliskova and Strycova. The Czech duo was the key factor in sealing the title during last year’s final and also in helping them win the opening round tie against Romania earlier this year. Both women did not disappoint this time again as they needed just a break of serve in each set en route to scoring a 7-5, 7-5 win over their French opponents, thus giving the Czech Republic its third Fed Cup title in a row.
The Czech Republic, as an independent nation, has now won the Fed Cup every year beginning 2011 where they captured their maiden title, the only exception being 2013 when they fell in the semifinal stage to eventual champions Italy. Combined with the five titles the nation has won in the past as Czechoslovakia, the central European nation is now second behind the United States in the all-time leaderboard of Fed Cup titles won, the Americans have 17 trophies in total.
Pala, the Czech captain, and Kvitova share sweet history as well as Pala becomes the most successful Fed Cup captain in history, having headed the team to all of its five titles in the last six years while Kvitova becomes the only Czech player to have won the most number of Fed Cup titles, having been part of the team which lifted those five crowns as well.