ST. LOUIS, MO, USA: When the curtain came down on the first day of the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas playoff tie between France and the USA in St. Louis, Missouri, it turned out that the No. 2 players from each team delivered a win to tie the score at 1-1.
In the first rubber it was France’s Caroline Garcia, the 51st-ranked player, taking out the 17th-ranked Sloane Stephen 63 62. It was Garcia’s first ever Fed Cup match played and she walked off court with a victory.
“Since this morning I feel good and just happy to play,” Garcia said. “My goal was to just play my game and enjoy to be here.
“I have nothing to lose and just a lot to learn to play this match. I was not nervous.”
The second rubber was more hotly contested with world No. 42 Madison Keys of USA eventually edging past No. 21 Alize Cornet of France 67 (4) 76 (4) 63 in a two-hour, 57 minute match. It wasn’t Keys’ first Fed Cup match — she had played in the first round against Italy — but it was her first Fed Cup match victory.
“Yeah, just really excited to get that win and get up on the board,” said Keys, who trailed 4-1 in the first set and 3-1 in the second set. “You
know, I thought I played okay in the first set; had a couple chances that I missed. Really dug deep in the second set, and thought I played pretty well in the third to be able to close it out.”
For Cornet, who was troubled by a left groin injury, giving up the match lead that would’ve put France up 2-0 was too much to bear. She walked off the court in tears and with her head buried into a towel.
The 20-year-old Garcia was riding the momentum. Last week she won her first career WTA title in Bogota, Colombia - in fact she won the singles and doubles crown in Bogota. From the minute she stepped out on court, Garcia was calm, cool and collected about the challenge ahead.
Garcia dominated Stephens, the highest ranked competitor at this tie, in their first career meeting. The Frenchwoman needed all of 67-minutes to efficiently manage a 63 62 victory to give the first point to France. Garcia played a mature game that highlighted how she’s become stronger and smarter on the court — she managed to choose the right shots at the right time.
“I thought I played pretty decent,” Stephens said. “Obviously Caroline played a really great match and is playing with a lot of confidence, playing well.
“I did my best and unfortunately didn't get the win. I did my best.”
At the beginning of the match, Stephens had the advantage by going up 2-1 with a service break. Garcia, however, recouped the break and won four of the final five games of the first set.
In the second set, from 2-2, Garcia won the final four games and then spread her arms out as if they were wings and pretended to fly towards the net for the traditional handshake.
“I thought she was playing really solid,” Stephens said. “She wasn’t missing at all. She served really well. She was just that much better than me today.
“She played some really great points.”
Like her countrywoman, Cornet showed up at the Fed Cup tie with a tournament trophy in her suitcase. She won the Katowice, Poland title last Sunday. But in the end she couldn’t keep the momentum going.
Cornet started to complain about a left adductor injury during her outing with Keys and the American smartly took advantage of the situation in the third set. Keys fought throughout the match and when the opportunity to pounce presented itself in the third set she stepped her game up another notch.
Keys served for the match at 5-2 in the third set but had her serve broken. But she didn’t have to wait until she served again to score the victory. She was handed the match by the serving Cornet when she tossed up her 14th and 15th double faults on the final two points of the rubber.
“Madison was playing very good and she didn’t let me finish the match,” said Cornet, who was three points away from winning the match in the second set tiebreaker. She was playing better and better in the match, especially in the third set, but I was very close to winning the match.”
Both players broke serve twice in three chances in the first set as they headed into a first set tiebreaker. Cornet jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the tiebreaker but even then Keys refused to just be pushed aside. At 6-2 for Cornet, Keys fought off three set points before a netted forehand on her own serve gave the opening set to Cornet.
The second set saw another tiebreaker, but this time it was Keys who prevailed. Serving with Keys having a 5-4 lead, Cornet dropped her serve in the next two points — a netted forehand followed by a netted backhand — to allow Keys to even the score to one set apiece.
Going back to the hotel, French captain Amelie Mauresmo was already thinking of alternative scenarios if Cornet is unable to play.
“I’m thinking we still have two more points to win,” Mauresmo said. “We’ll see how is everyone and we’ll plan.”
As for USA captain Mary Joe Fernandez, she left the Chaifetz Arena happy to be 1-1 and not 0-2, which for a while appeared to be a distinct possibility.
“I mean, that's the thing about any match, especially when you play Fed Cup,” said Fernandez, of there being no guarantees. “You never know. Just have to keep plugging away.”
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Caroline Garcia (FRA) - 20/04/2014