Kristina Mladenovic delivered an important 6-4, 6-3 victory for France over Belinda Bencic to level the Fed Cup quarter-final tie at one win apiece after Timea Bacsinszky gave Switzerland the lead with an opening rubber win over Alize Cornet.
Mladenovic takes first set with aggressive play
There was an early break chance for Bencic but her backhand sailed wide, allowing Mladenovic to escape early trouble. In the fourth game, it was the Frenchwoman who had her first chances to break, four in total. After bypassing her first three opportunities, another backhand error from the Swiss confirmed the lead for Mladenovic, which stood at 3-1.
She nearly padded her lead with an insurance break, but Bencic staved off those four break points to stay in touch, but it was all for naught as the Frenchwoman held to love, capping the set with 18 winners, halfway to a crucial victory for the French.
Mladenovic closes out win in straight sets
It was more of the same to start the second set as Mladenovic was in command right away, Bencic missing a forehand well wide to gift the lead to her French opponent. It was clear sailing seemingly for the former U.S. Open quarterfinalist as she held a comfortable a 3-1 lead.
To remove any doubt about the outcome of the match, Mladenovic did what she couldn't in the first set: grab a second break, more power hitting forcing another error from the struggling 19-year old. With a 4-1 lead, the Frenchwoman was broken in her next service game, but that was merely a blip as she delivered her country a vital win heading into reverse singles on Sunday.
Mladenovic will be sent out first in reverse singles against Bacsinszky in the crucial tiebreaking match. The Swiss won their only previous encounter in the first round of Eastbourne last year. Bencic will then follow against most likely Cornet, but French captain Yannick Noah has the luxury of calling on veteran Pauline Parmentier or youngster Amandine Hesse to substitute for Cornet.
Mladenovic spoke of the challenges facing her in this matchup: "It was a big challenge, stepping on the court one match down and having to play my best friend," she said. "I had to stay aggressive because she could have turned it around at any time – she almost did in the second set. I’ve understood some things about my game recently and I’m enjoying it all so much. Today was great."