PARIS, FRANCE: French captain Amelie Mauresmo said Friday that having Kristina Mladenovic as the ace in the doubles hole in this weekend’s Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II tussle against Switzerland could prove pivotal.
How right she was.
Mladenovic combined with Alize Cornet to beat Belinda Bencic and Timea Bacsinszky 75 64 in the live fifth rubber to give Les Bleus a 3-2 victory – and hopes of competing in the coveted World Group next year.
Mladenovic, ranked 17th in doubles and a mixed doubles winner at the Australian Open in January, improved her Fed Cup doubles record to an unblemished 5-0.
“Kiki was exceptional in the doubles,” Mauresmo said, referring to Mladenovic by her nickname.
For Cornet, a weekend that began poorly ended on a high, as Mauresmo stuck with the 24-year-old even after she imploded against 16-year-old Bencic on Saturday.
But if there was a player who hardly deserved to be on the losing side, it was Bencic.
An injury to Romina Oprandi meant she was always likely to be the Swiss No. 2, and Bencic was more composed than the older Cornet in her singles debut.
She was even better Sunday against Fed Cup stalwart Virginie Razzano, blasting past the veteran who is nearly double her age, 61 61, to set up the doubles decider.
Bencic’s ties to Martina Hingis – Hingis’ mom has played an instrumental role in shaping her career – and impressive junior results have upped the hype; her performance at the Stade Pierre de Coubertin won’t dampen the enthusiasm.
Had Bencic not dropped serve at 5-3 in the first set against Cornet and Mladenovic in the doubles, her weekend might have been perfect.
“Of course I’m very disappointed,” said Bencic. “I played a good singles but we needed three points.”
Failing to close out the first was the turning point. Cornet and Mladenovic relaxed, and the Swiss duo’s window of opportunity shut.
Mauresmo – likely more relieved than anything else – sprayed her team with water when the tie was officially won.
Most of her squad had dealt with illness in the last week.
“The weekend was really long,” Mauresmo said. “I thought the day would be long. That was the case. After Saturday, I thought we could go to a decisive doubles. I’m proud of my players.”
Mauresmo certainly played her part in the victory, not replacing Cornet with Mladenovic against substitute Bacsinszky to open proceedings Sunday. Cornet duly prevailed 62 76(4).
Straight forward, however, it wasn’t.
The slugfest lasted nearly two-and-a-half hours and featured 180 points – or about nine per game.
Cornet didn’t help her cause by going 5-17 on break points, and Mauresmo, at times, seemed downright agitated with the world No. 25 during changeovers.
Not that Cornet minded.
“She’s always present to support me and give me good advice,” said Cornet. “She had good advice yesterday to keep me in a good mood. I’m happy to have her as captain. I think we have a very good relationship.
Mauresmo pointed to her head – her own, that is – as she urged Cornet to play a smart game at 6-5 in the second. Cornet couldn’t close it out then but put her 196th-ranked opponent – who took a break from tennis not so long ago and has been ravaged by injuries – away in the tiebreak.
Swiss captain Heinz Guenthardt shouldn’t merit any criticism for replacing Stefanie Voegele, since his No. 1 was completely out of sorts versus Razzano to begin the series and dropped to 6-14 in the competition.
“Everyone gave everything,” said Guenthardt. “Belinda played extremely well and Timea also played a great match where only a few points made the difference.”
There was no such labouring for Bencic when she battled Razzano.
After breaking the 30-year-old in a long first game, Bencic raced to a one-set advantage. Razzano’s lone opportunity came at 1-1 in the second set, when she got to deuce on the Bencic serve.
But Bencic held, Razzano was broken for 3-1 – and that was that.
Razzano lost for only the fourth time in 14 Fed Cup singles encounters.
“Bencic was too strong for Virginie,” said Mauresmo.
But even with Bencic’s heroics, the French were ultimately too much for the Swiss.
Alize Cornet (FRA) - 09/02/2014