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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, November 12, 2016

 
Karolina Pliskova

Karolina Pliskova subdued Kristina Mladenovic, 6-3, 4-6, 16-14 in a three hour, 48-minute thrill ride to stake defending champion Czech Republic to a 1-0 lead over host France in Strasbourg.

Photo credit: Fed Cup Facebook

As screams from 6,000 fans and the music from dueling national bands echoed in their ears, Karolina Pliskova and Kristina Mladenovic remained riveted on the ball pushing a pulsating match into history.

In a fiercely-fought Fed Cup final opener, Karolina Pliskova subdued Kristina Mladenovic, 6-3, 4-6, 16-14 in a three hour, 48-minute thrill ride to stake defending champion Czech Republic to a 1-0 lead over host France in Strasbourg.

Watch: Fed Cup Final Story Lines

The two hour, 24-minute final set was the longest set—singles or doubles—in Fed Cup final history.

"I feel fresh actually," Pliskova told Fed Cup.com's Craig Gabriel afterward. "It's my longest match I played ever. I'm really happy with the way it ended.

"I didn't have many chances (in the final set). She was serving well. I was just looking at the score and still counting the games and we were still continuing. It was an unbelievable match for both of us. I'm really happy with the win."




This third career meeting between former junior rivals provided dizzying drama, leads squandered, match points saved, sing-song chants from fans and a medical time-out.

And all that activity took place in the frenetic final set. Pliskova built a 5-2 lead and served for the match only to see Mladenovic answer with a three-game run.




The French No. 2 saved two match points serving at 8-9 then took a medical time-out to have her left leg taped. Through it all, Pliskova barely blinked amid immense pressure posting her sixth win in her last seven Fed Cup matches.

The world No. 6 broke to open the match. The pair exchanged breaks in the sixth and seventh games before Pliskova snatched the opening set on a Mladenovic double fault.

Pliskova rapped an ace to seal another love hold for a 3-2 second-set lead.

That powerful serve betrayed the WTA ace leader in the seventh game.

A horrid four double fault lapse put Pliskova in a double break point bind in the seventh game. She saved both driving the ball down opposite sidelines. Mladenovic came right back with a jolting forehand return for a third break point. Then the Czech spit up a fourth double fault into net as Mladenovic trotted to her court-side seat with a 4-3 lead.

The 42nd-ranked Frenchwoman used a drop volley and stinging serve wide to erase break points in the following game only to clank her sixth double fault. When Mladenovic pushed a backhand down the line wide, Pliskova was back on serve.

Undaunted, Mladenovic cranked an inside-out forehand winner for break point and broke on a Pliskova error. That break sent French captain Amélie Mauresmo leaping from her seat with a clenched fist.



Serving for the set, Mladenovic ripped a sharp slice serve setting up a bounce-smash for set point. Bolting a forehand winner down the line, a fired-up Mladenovic seized the 45-minute second set to level the match.

Final-set stress was just beginning. Untimely double faults hurt both women.

Mladenovic's seventh double fault followed by a churning Pliskova return winner forced the Frenchwoman to face triple break point. Mladenovic put a timid forehand drop shot into the middle of the net as Pliskova converted her third break point for 4-2. Pliskova backed up the break at 30 for 5-2.

Serving for the match at 5-3, Pliskova tried hitting behind her opponent, but paid a price as Mladenovic stayed home and swatted a forehand winner breaking for 4-5.

When Mladenovic held to level the set she tapped the French flag over her heart on her blue tank top exhorting the home crowd to make more noise.

Regaining her rhythm on serve, Pliskova powered through a love hold snapping a three-game slide.

A brave slice second serve gave Mladenovic game point and she zapped an ace down the middle to forge 6-all.

With no final-set tie break in the Fed Cup final, the battle waged on in tense service games.

Serving with confidence, Mladenovic slid an ace down the middle holding at love for 8-8.

Captain Mauresmo massaged Mladenovic's legs vigorously before she stepped up to serve the 18th game of the set. A double fault and a Pliskova biting return left Mladenovic reeling down double match point, while clutching at her legs. On the first match point, Mladenovic went for a big second serve and Pliskova barely missed forehand return down line. Leaning on her Wilson racquet between points, Mladenovic laced her 10th ace to deny a second match point, standing strong to level.

After that hard-fought hold, Mladenovic took a medical timeout to have her left thigh taped. The timing of the time out, before Pliskova was about to serve, left Czech captain Petr Pala looking concerned.

Still, Pliskova kept calm rifling a forehand pass down the line then holding for 10-9.

In the 21st game, Pliskova saved a break point bouncing a smash into the second row.

Two games later, Pliskova slapped a swing forehand volley into net to face love-30. After three hours, 15 minutes of play both women were pushing themselves to the limit. Driving a forehand return winner down the line Mladenovic gained double break point then broke on a Pliskova error for 12-11.

French fans chanted "Kiki! Kiki!" as Mladenovic stepped up to serve for match with her first lead of the day. Calmly quieting the crowd, Pliskova broke right back at 15 for 12-all.

The US Open finalist fought off a couple of break points slashing her eighth ace for 13-12 as the final set raged on past the two-hour mark.

After three hours, 47 minutes of tense play, Mladenovic netted a backhand giving Pliskova three more match points. She needed only one. Mladenovic sailed a forehand ending a fierce fight with a flurry of high-fives to her Czech teammates.


 

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