BESANCON, FRANCE: The sight of Marion Bartoli tottering down a flight of stairs after the official dinner in six-inch high heels turned out to be Amelie Mauresmo’s only real cause for concern, otherwise her returning star player never put a foot wrong.
Other than the victory that enabled France to avoid the ignominy of relegation to the nether regions of the Fed Cup, the sweetest music to the ears of captain Mauresmo will have come from the lips of Bartoli, who, when asked if he she was back to stay after eight-and-a-half years’ absence from the team, answered emphatically: “I will be there for many years – yes.”
And turn out regularly? “I will make sure I do.”
Bartoli followed up Saturday’s dream return at the Palais des Sports in Besancon with an arguably even better performance against the Kazakhstan No. 1, Yaroslava Shvedova, overcoming a tricky start to win 64 63 and put France firmly in the driving seat in this World Group II play-off tie.
Nor could Mauresmo have wished for a better way in which to confirm victory than to see Alize Cornet indicate that she has the makings of a solid No. 2 by putting aside the bitter disappointment of Saturday’s defeat and a shaky start on Sunday to win 63 61 against Ksenia Pervak, a match she said she “couldn’t lose”.
Such resilience should stand her good stead in the ties to come, which are likely to be even more testing as France attempt to rescale a mountain they have conquered twice before but not for 10 years. “We’ll see if it’s a breakthrough for her,” said Mauresmo.
Jean Gachassin, the president of the French Tennis Federation, was full of praise for the new powerbase of French women’s tennis, describing Bartoli as the “boss” among the players. As for Mauresmo, he said this one-time great player was now turning into a great captain who had a special affinity with her players.
She certainly couldn’t have asked for more from them and beating a very sporting Kazakhstan side 4-1 was the perfect response to the defeat to Germany in her first match in charge in February.
“Marion was the best player of the weekend and it showed on the court,” said Mauresmo. “I could see throughout the week that she was feeling very comfortable in this team so I’m glad that she’s confirmed to you that she’s back to stay.”
Shvedova, ranked 37 in the world, posed a rather different problem for Bartoli than Galina Voskoboeva, whom she had met in the first rubber, since she could match the French girl for power and possessed superior athleticism.
In the first couple of games Bartoli struggled to find the same intensity and length to her game, but a trademark double-handed backhand in the third game that fairly whizzed past Shvedova suggested that she was about to get back on song.
“The beauty of tennis is that it’s not because you have lost the first two games you have lost the match, and I’ve been able to turn it around and just be focussed and very positive about what I need to do in the match,” she said.
No sooner had Bartoli broken back when her aggressive style rebounded on her with three double faults in the fifth game, which she again put quickly behind her. It is to her credit that she rarely becomes tentative in such moments. Breaks were swiftly exchanged in six of the next seven games but ultimately in the first set it was Shvedova’s third double fault, on set point, that proved more damaging than Bartoli’s six.
Such was Bartoli’s growing impetus in this match that not even a mistaken line call in the second game of the second set and a controversial one in the third game faze her. And when a net cord came to her rescue in that third game, as Shvedova smartly switched attack from the backhand to Bartoli’s weaker forehand, she probably thought she deserved it.
A perfect lob from her in the next game paved the way for a break of serve which she then consolidated by holding. Shvedova’s last real chance of turning things around came and went with her failure to convert a break point in the fifth game.
“From 4-3 down in the first set to 5-1 in the second I felt I really played some great tennis, said Bartoli. “Getting those two points for my country, I’m very proud of all my efforts throughout the weekend.”
It had come as something of a surprise when Ksenia Pervak wasn’t selected for the opening day’s singles. The lefthander had had a fine start to the year, reaching the quarterfinals of the Brisbane International - where she beat Caroline Wozniaki - and then upsetting the seeded Mona Barthel at the Australian Open. Fedcup.com asked her if she had had food poisoning and whether it was a mitigating factor in her somewhat tame performance.
“Yeah, how do you know?” she answered with a laugh. “You know everything, eh. It’s hard to hide anything from you. It’s not an excuse to say, like, I was sick, but definitely it affected [me] a little bit, I was a little bit tired from the dehydration and couldn’t practise and couldn’t eat for a couple of days. But she was very consistent.”
Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic put the perfect finishing touch to France’s perfect day when they beat Sesil Karatantcheva and Galina Voskoboeva 62 75 in the dead doubles rubber. The Kazakhs, though, will be back this way. That’s for sure.
Captain Amelie Mauresmo (FRA) - 21/04/2013
Captain Dias Doskarayez (KAZ) - 21/04/2013
Alize Cornet (FRA) - 21/04/2013
Marion Bartoli (FRA) - 21/04/2013
Ksenia Pervak (KAZ) - 21/04/2013
Yaroslava Shvedova (KAZ) - 21/04/2013