ST. LOUIS, MO, USA: It was a Fed Cup by BNP Paribas play-off tie of great importance for France and USA with both nations understanding the stakes were very high. The winner would be installed into the elite eight World Group nations playing for the 2015 Fed Cup title. The losers would join eight other nations in World Group II with the goal of playing their way back to the upper echelon.
The outcome has now been decided: Vive la France. In St. Louis, a well-known USA Midwestern city that was born of distinctive French roots, France scored a 3-2 victory over USA. And their hero was 20-year-old Caroline Garcia, making her Fed Cup playing debut a success story by winning three points for her team.
“Totally amazing,” said Amelie Mauresmo, France’s Fed Cup captain. “She [Caroline Garcia] was unbelievable yesterday already and today again with both singles and doubles, with the help of Virginie [Razzano] in the doubles. I think she loved Fed Cup. She really rose to this occasion being fearless completely, being great, and supported by the whole group, the whole team.”
Even USA captain Mary Joe Fernandez couldn’t help admiring the performance of Garcia this weekend.
“I like her game a lot,” Fernandez said. “I’ve liked it for a long time. She’s much more disciplined now with her shot selection. She’s a great athlete. Now it’s all coming together.”
In contrast, and for only the second time in history, the USA is bumped down to World Group II action for 2015. In 41 of 42 previous years playing Fed Cup, the USA’s always competed to win the Fed Cup title, the exception coming in 2012.
Tied at 1-1, Sunday’s action commenced with American Sloane Stephens taking a 62 64 win over Virginie Razzano, a substitute for the injured Alize Cornet, in the opening rubber. It was a special career moment for the world No. 17 — it marked her first career Fed Cup singles victory. And there was no doubt the occasion was one she’s been waiting to achieve.
“Yeah, I mean it’s awesome to get my first singles win; Madison got hers yesterday,” said a beaming Stephens. “[I’m] just excited to be here and competing out there.”
While the U.S. had a previous 8-3 winning record when establishing a 2-1 lead, Garcia apparently missed that memo. The star of France’s weekend, Garcia outclassed Madison Keys 64 63 on Sunday after defeating Stephens in straight sets on Saturday.
“I was not thinking it would be like this for my first time, but it’s always a dream to have a weekend like this,” Garcia said. “We did it all together so it was perfect.”
That left the outcome of the weekend to the fifth and decisive doubles match that ended up being contested by the singles players of the day: Garcia and Razzano for the French, Keys and Stephens for the USA. Except for a last minute surge by the American duo — the USA recouped two service breaks late in the second set - it was all Garcia and Razzano, who brought home the tie victory with a 62 75 win.
“The girls did great,” Fernandez said of her young team. “They had great attitudes. They worked really hard. Nearly a great comeback there being down a set and 4-0. That's all you can ask for: that determination and desire and will to keep going.”
The USA has played a live doubles rubber on nine occasions since the World Group format was instituted in 1995 and hold a 5-4 winning record when doing so.
As for France, they've come back from 2-1 down to win a Fed Cup tie on six occasions now since the World Group format. They performed the feat most recently before today with a 3-2 World Group quarterfinal win over Germany in 2010.
Stephens was on top of the 78th-ranked Razzano from the outset of the match that lasted just 67 minutes.
The American No. 1 raced to a 4-1 lead in the first set. It was at that point that Stephens played her one difficult game — a 16-point service game she lost and marked the only time in the match her serve was broken. But it was inconsequential to the proceedings as Stephens still maintained a service break advantage, broke Razzano for a third time in the seventh game for a 5-2 lead, and then served out the set in the eighth game.
In the second set, all Stephens needed was a service break at love in the third game to secure the permanent advantage that would give USA a 2-1 lead in the tie.
“It was tough today because she played very good,” Razzano admitted. “You know, she has a game with a lot of variety. She has good timing. Sometimes it’s not easy to defend the surface, to defend many things. Sometimes you can’t win — it’s life, you know.”
Garcia needed only 70 minutes to defeat Keys, a victory that prevented the final curtain from going down on this tie for France.
Keys started the match with the momentum, but Garcia was not to be thwarted from the task at hand. She settled in after falling behind 0-2 in the first set and step-by-step worked her way to a first set win. At 4-4 in the first set, Garcia won the final two games by winning eight of nine points played.
The second set stayed on course through to the sixth game when Keys forfeited her service game to put Garcia at 4-2 and with a permanent lead.
“I think in France Fed Cup is quite important,” Mauremo said. “The national team, it’s something we really cherish. To carry the flag is something that’s quite emotional and something we take pleasure in doing.”
Captain Amelie Mauresmo (FRA) - 20/04/2014
Caroline Garcia (FRA) - 20/04/2014
Captain Mary Joe Fernandez (USA) - 20/04/2014
Sloane Stephens (USA) - 20/04/2014