PERTH: Kristina Mladenovic stunned world number one Ashleigh Barty in three sets to give France a 2-1 lead over Australia in the Fed Cup final Sunday and inch them closer to a first title since 2003.
Barty has been in scintillating form, thrashing Caroline Garcia 6-0, 6-0 on Saturday after winning the WTA Finals in China last weekend.
But after Barty comfortably took the first set, 40th-ranked Mladenovic found her touch to claw back the second set and topple the Australian 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/1) at a packed Perth Arena.
“It´s hard to speak,” said an emotional Mladenovic afterwards as the tears flowed. “We (the team) kept on fighting for every point and that´s the way I like to play my tennis.”
Ajla Tomljanovic, who was crushed 6-1, 6-1 by Mladenovic in the first singles rubber, will play the experienced Pauline Parmentier later.
If Australia win that one, the final will go to a deciding doubles in which Barty and Samantha Stosur are scheduled to play Mladenovic and Garcia.
Australia are targeting an eighth title and first in 45 years, while France are seeking a third, and their first since 2003.
Barty continued when she left off after the “double bagel” of Garcia on Saturday and broke Mladenovic´s first service game with a net volley to extend her streak to 15 games this weekend .
Mladenovic held serve to end the Barty run and it became a closer affair before the Australian began forcing errors to break again and take the first set.
Barty´s never-say-die attitude was on show in the opening game of the second set when she saved five break points.
But it was Mladenovic who worked the first crucial break with some top-quality passing shots, with a forehand long from Barty giving her a 5-4 lead.
She held her nerve to serve out the set in 53 titanic minutes.
Mladenovic, who beat Barty on clay in Rome earlier this year, was on a roll with the French star breaking then holding for a 3-1 third-set lead.
Stung, Barty rallied to break back for 3-3 but the errors again crept in and she was broken again.
Mladenovic lost her nerve serving for the match and the see-sawing set ultimately went to a tie break with Mladenovic coming out on top.