Thursday, 17 November 2016

Fed Cup - Czech Again !

The Czech Republic at the weekend won its third successive Fed Cup, and fifth in six years with an enthralling victory over France in the 2016 final.

It came down to the final match - the doubles rubber - and the heroics, though shared throughout both teams during the tie, most prominently were served up by the lower ranked Barbora Strycova for the victors, and Caroline Garcia for the valiant runners-up.

The 2016 US Open finalist, and only top ten player featured in the final, Karolina Pliskova, opened proceedings on Day One against French number two Kristina Mladenovic.  The pair split the first two sets before embarking on an unprecedented marathon decider lasting 30 games.  Incredibly only five breaks of serve occurred during this time, but it was the Czech Republic which put the first point on the board with Pliskova outlasting her opponent 6-3 4-6 16-14.

Caroline Garcia injected a wave of enthusiasm back into the Strasbourg crowd, which was clearly a little down from the result of the first match, when she stunned last start winner Petra Kvitova in a masterful display against the two time Wimbledon champ.  Garcia won the WTA tournament here in May this year, so Strasbourg is a happy hunting ground.
After an enthralling first set, which appropriately was decided in a tie break, eight points to six in Garcia's favour - thanks mainly to her forehand, and ability to restrict her unforced error count to a minimum - the French player controlled set two, especially with her success on the Kvitova serve, winning 13 out of 24 points from it.
The 7-6 6-3 win levelled things at 1-1 after Day One, and Caroline Garcia continued her momentum first up on Day Two when confronting a battle weary Karolina Pliskova.

Garcia took the first set, often forcing Pliskova into error in an otherwise even affair.  Pliskova answered quickly in the second, not facing a break point on her own serve but creating many chances on the Garcia delivery, converting one to level the battle.
Garcia had plenty in reserve and clinched her second win in as many matches with a fine third set highlighted by crisp forehand winners and success when coming to the net.  France ahead 2-1 and the home crowd well and truly brimming with confidence.

Both captains decided to rest players for the fourth rubber, Petr Pala opting for Barbora Strycova ahead of Kvitova, and Amelie Mauresmo replacing Mladenovic with Alize Cornet.
Strycova was quickest out of the blocks, clearly having the better of Cornet whenever the points were decided at the net, and punishing the French serve, both first and second entries.  The 6-2 scoreline was a true reflection of the gap in performance.
Set two was far more competitive, and despite Strycova losing half her points at the net, a tie break resulted.  7 points to 4 it was the set to the Czech Republic and the match 6-2 7-6.  The doubles would decide Fed Cup 2016.

The teams selected for the critical clash were Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic (France) and Karolina Pliskova and Barbora Strycova (Czech Republic).
There was hardly anything between the teams in either of the two sets, but an overall edge in effective return of serve managed to convert into an extra service break in each, providing a 7-5 7-5 success to the Czech pair over the world number two ranked pairing, and a 3-2 Fed Cup triumph for the nation.

From 1-2 down, Barbora Strycova stepped in to the breach, and deserves huge praise for her work in winning the vital final singles and then immediately backing up for the doubles decider.
Caroline Garcia, ranked 23, defeated players ranked 6 and 11 and while disappointed for her nation, can justifiably be proud of her efforts.  

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