The Czech Republic has retained the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas title for a third consecutive year after a thrilling and dramatic 3/2 victory over hosts France at the finals in Strasbourg.
THE ROAD TO THE FINAL
The Czech team made its way to the final with victories over Romania and Switzerland in the World Group quarterfinals and semifinals respectively. With Kvitova’s two losses in the singles to Romania, Pliskova played a key role in the victory, winning both singles as well as the doubles. Pliskova again played a pivotal part in the semis, stepping up for the deciding doubles victory against Switzerland.
France, for their part, trounced Italy 4-1 in the quarters. The team then edged past the Netherlands in the quarterfinals, where Dutch woman Kiki Bertens won both her singles matches, but could not win a third when it came down to the doubles.
Day 1, Saturday 12th November
Pliskova (CZE) d Mladenovic (FRA) 6-3 4-6 16-14
Many expected the first rubber, between the world number six and a recent Grand Slam finalist against the world number 46, to be a walk in the park. Mladenovic, however, proved to be in inspired form. Pliskova seemed to be coasting at a set up, but lost focus to let her opponent back in the match. Buoyed by the local crowd, Mladenovic fought back, fought some more and then kept fighting, hauling back a 2-5 deficit in the third set. Pliskova did well not to panic; her demure and calm nature helping her to withstand the onslaught and win the almost four-hour match to give her country the lead after what was the longest set in Fed Cup history.
Garcia (FRA) d Kvitova (CZE) 7-6(6) 6-3
Again, on paper, there was a clear pre-match favourite for this match, with 2-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova seeming to have hit form with a recent win at the WTA Elite Trophy. The Czech was carrying a foot injury though, and faced a determined opponent in Garcia, who played “at such a high level” according to Captain Mauresmo, to draw the home team level, thanks in small part to a slew of errors from Kvitova.
Day 2, Sunday 13th November
Garcia (FRA) d Pliskova (CZE) 6-3 3-6 6-3
Playing with strapping on her leg after the previous day’s marathon, Pliskova was again pushed all the way by her French opponent. Having lost the first set with just the one break of serve, the match followed that trend throughout as both players traded sets. At 4-3 in the final set, some all-or-nothing returning from Garcia enabled her to break for 5-3 and then hold to give the ecstatic home team a 2/1 lead.
Strycova (CZE) d Cornet (FRA) 6-2 7-6 (4)
With Petra Kvitova confirmed to be suffering from a stress fracture of her foot, Barbora Strycova stepped up off the bench, and was raring to go. Coming into the match with a 1-5 head to head record against Alizé Cornet, the Czech came out all guns blazing, with very solid play. Clearly nervous, Cornet saw the first set slip away from her quickly, but as the crowd lifted her up, Cornet’s game also raised. A 4-1 second set lead gave her a cushion but made Strycova, a player who always shines in the Fed Cup, dig in. Although Strycova clawed her way back to 4-4 and even led 5-4, it was the gritty Cornet who forced the tiebreak, with the crowd completely enthralled the entire time. With both players suffering from jitters the pressure told; a couple of unforced errors in the tie-break gave the mini break to Strycova, which was all she needed to equalise the tie at 2-2.
Pliskova/Strycova (CZE) d Garcia/Mladenovic (FRA) 7-5 7-5
The stage was set for a fitting conclusion to the women’s world championship team event. Czech coach Petr Pala put Strycova back on court for her doubles expertise and the rich form she had shown in singles. It was a smart tactical move, as he teamed her up with the big-serving Pliskova. Less surprising was that Mauresmo completely substituted the originally-named team of Cornet and Pauline Parmentier for Garcia and Mladenovic, who despite having played in singles, have compiled an excellent record together as one the leading teams of 2016 on the WTA Tour. The teams were virtually inseparable in the first set; a couple of badly timed double-faults by Mladenovic proving to be the decisive factor. Pliskova’s pace and Strycova’s agility at the net helped the Czechs break for a 4-2 lead in a swinging second set, which then saw the French team leading 5-4. That would prove to be their last hurrah however, as the Czechs broke twice in succession to eke a 7-5 win.
So close, yet so far. The French battled until the very end, but were unable to prevent their opponents from completing a hat trick of titles. The strength and depth of the Czech squad, along with excellent team spirit, ensured a a fifth Fed Cup trophy in the last six years (and tenth overall, counting the wins of the former Czechoslovakia). All five wins have come under the tutelage of Captain Pala, making him the most successful team captain in the history of the competition.
FINAL SCORE: Czech Republic 3 - France 2
Fed Cup 2017 - Looking Ahead
Of course the Czech Republic and France will be back in the World Group next year. They will be joined again by Switzerland and The Netherlands, who will also remain in the top tier by virtue of their semi-finals appearances.
After the playoffs, Germany booked their spot to remain in the World Group, along with the USA, Belarus and Spain who have moved up from World Group II.
Some of the strongest teams of recent years have been relegated to World Group II, namely Russia, Italy and Romania. There, they join Australia, Slovakia, Belgium, Ukraine and Chinese Taipei.