Australia’s quest for their first Fed Cup title in 45 years is still alive, after World No.1 Ash Barty rescued her nation on day one of the final against France in Perth.
After captain Alicia Molik’s great gamble backfired in the opening rubber, Barty crushed France’s Caroline Garcia to level the tie at 1-1 heading into the final day of action at the RAC Arena.
Earlier, Australian Ajla Tomljanovic was too smashed 6-1, 6-1 in her Cup debut by Kristina Mladenovic.
But Barty put Australia’s fears at ease, winning in just over an hour in a clinical performance described as one “for the ages” by former great Todd Woodbridge.
Barty won 6-0, 6-0 in front of her home fans.
“This is remarkable. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect match. I think that’s probably the best tennis match I’ve ever played in my life and what a place to do it – this is incredible and I’m so happy to be back here in Perth,” Barty said post-game.
“I started my year here so it’s a helluva a way to finish it off.”
It is Australia’s first Fed Cup final since 1993.
Australia last won the event, previously known as the Federation Cup, in Italy in 1974, with Evonne Goolagong, Dianne Fromholtz and Janet Young defeating the United States 2-1.
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The Australian started the match with an ace and took the first game, before breaking Garcia in the second game to wrestle back the ascendancy.
Barty raced to a 5-0 lead after just 15 minutes on court, with Garcia struggling to return Barty’s powerful serve.
It took almost as long as the opening five games to win the crucial sixth game, with Barty prevailing after six deuces to win the first set.
Barty backed up her fine form from the serve in the first set with 15 winners.
Barty continued the demolition in the second set to set-up a mouth-watering second day of action on Sunday, where she will take to the Arena at 2pm AEDT in the reverse single match against Mladenovic.
Having watched her Australian teammate Tomljanovic struggle to contain the power of Mladenovic, Barty said she was intent on taking it to her French opponent early.
“I think that was a statement match. Kristina was in control and she was able to control the court a little bit, so I think that’s the challenge for me tomorrow is to come out and try to take her out of her comfort zone,” Barty said.
“I think she was free-swinging a little bit at the start and then got a bit of a roll on.
“But I’m looking forward to the challenge tomorrow. I can’t wait to play out here in front of all of you guys with my team and hopefully we can come away with the goods tomorrow.”
Earlier, Tomljanovic was well beaten in her Cup debut.
Having been called up to play ahead of veteran Samantha Stosur by Molik, Tomljanovic was smashed 6-1, 6-1 by World No. 40 Mladenovic in just over an hour in the opening rubber.
Tomljanovic — ranked No. 51 — struggled to fire a shot.
“I think that (the pressure of a Cup debut) was a big factor in today’s first rubber,” former Australian Fed Cup star Casey Dellacqua said in commentary for Chanel 9.
“It was an unique experience for Ajla to be playing for Australia in a final to begin with and it was just a huge occasion for her.
“There’s no doubt, having played Fed Cup, it’s such a different feeling. There’s a lot for her to take on today, but on the other hand for Mladenovic, who has been here and done it and played in a final here before, I think that really put her in good stead for that match today.”
The Croatian-born right-hander was broken in her opening two service games, before breaking back in the fourth to trail 3-1.
But her joy was short lived as Mladenovic broke back and took the next three games to win the first set.
The second set followed a similar pattern, as Mladenovic attacked Tomljanovic’s serve forcing the Australian deep in her own court.
“It’s a tough task for Ajla playing straight away in the final, but I think she played good,” Mladenovic told Woodbridge on court following her win.
“I’m just sorry that I just wanted to win basically.
“She’s a good friend of mine and I think her level was great. I really did almost a perfect match. I was really in the zone. I love these kind of events. The more pressure there is, the more special the event, I just love fighting and I’m so proud to give this first point to my team, to my country, to our supporters and our federation and this is just the beginning.”
Those four players will also be part of the reverse singles on Sunday before a potentially decisive doubles clash, where Stosur will partner Barty against Garcia and Mladenovic.
– Ajla Tomljanovic def by Kristina Mladenovic 6-1, 6-1
– Ash Barty def Caroline Garcia 6-0, 6-0
RUBBER 3: Ash Barty vs Kristina Mladenovic at 2pm AEDT
RUBBER 4: Ajla Tomljanovic vs Caroline Garcia
RUBBER 5: Ash Barty and Samantha Stosur vs Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia
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