U.S. defeats France in 2018 Fed Cup semifinal

April 21, 2018 02:38 PM

By Ashley Marshall

AIX-EN-PROVENCE, France – Madison Keys sent defending champion Team USA back to the Fed Cup final, with a 7-6, 6-4 victory over Pauline Parmentier on Day 2 of the U.S. vs. France semifinals.

Keys' win, combined with Sloane Stephens' singles victories over Kristina Mladenovic earlier Sunday and against Parmentier on Saturday, gave the U.S. an unassailable 3-1 lead in the best-of-five tie.

"I love playing Fed Cup," said Keys, who was forced to watch the 2017 final from her Florida home while rehabbing her surgically repaired wrist. "I was really sad that I couldn’t play last year because of my wrist, but as soon as [U.S. captain] Kathy [Rinaldi] asked if I wanted to be here I said yes. 

"So just being able to represent my country is the thing that I’m always really excited about. Obviously, Sloane playing some great matches and getting that final win is really, really special."

The U.S. will now travel to the Czech Republic in November, after the Petra Kvitova-led Czechs defeated host-team Germany on the indoor clay of the Porsche Arena in Stuttgart earlier Sunday.

The final will be held Nov. 10-11 at a site and on a surface to be determined by the Czech Republic at a later date.

After Stephens had given the U.S. a 2-1 lead on Sunday, Keys followed with a victory of her own to set off celebrations on the Team USA bench and among the traveling band of American supporters seated behind it.

Parmentier raced out to a 4-1 lead, before Keys responded with four unanswered games in a row to edge in front.

"I was very nervous," Keys said of the first set. "I wanted to be the one to get the final point, and that was definitely the slow start."

Parmentier saved a pair of set points at 4-5 and eventually sent the set to a tiebreak, which remained on serve through the first nine points, with Keys holding a narrow advantage. A miss from the ad court gave Keys another set point, and she capitalized to put the U.S. one set from the final.

In the second set, the first major body blow was dealt when Keys broke Parmentier for a 3-2 lead. France's No. 2 player made a passing shot to get back to 3-3, but Keys delivered what would prove to be the knockout punch with a second break to forge ahead, 5-4.

Keys served out the match, wrapping it up in style after one hour, 42 minutes, with a wide serve to the Parmentier backhand that she could not get back in play. 

"I love these weeks just because it is one of the few times you get to play for a team," Keys said. "I love playing for my country. It’s just another match, but it’s not. You always feel so much more nervous. It’s always great when you can look over and see all these team members behind you."

As the U.S. team celebrated with the American flag and the trio of French players took a bow in front of their appreciatrive fans, a group of French supporters playing brass instruments immediately to the right of Team USA played the U.S. national anthem.

Next up for the U.S. is a trip to the 2018 Fed Cup World Group final. 

"They’re competitors," Kathy Rinaldi said. "They want to win, it’s more fun to win. We know that going into the final is going to be tough. Czech Republic has tremendous depth as well. They have had a lot of success as well in Fed so it should be very interesting."

The U.S. holds a 10-2 Fed Cup record all-time against the Czech Republic, including a 2-0 mark on the road.

Team USA beat the Czech Republic when the teams last met in the 2017 semifinals in Tampa Bay, Fla., although that Czech team was without Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova.

The last time the nations met in the Czech Republic was in the 2009 semifinals, with Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Liezel Huber winning the decisive doubles match to send the U.S. to the final.

U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi is looking to guide her team to back-to-back Fed Cup titles for the first time since Billie Jean King led the U.S. to two straight championships in 1999-2000.

"I think all the credit goes to the players," Rinaldi said. "It was an incredible atmosphere here in France. They were so welcoming. The venue was beautiful, the accommodations were great. It was just another great, special week.

"There’s a lot of time between now and November. It is tough. I’ve always said that’s the toughest part about being a captain is looking at the depth and looking at all the players. Hopefully everybody is available and we’re looking forward to it."

French captain Yannick Noah was gracious in defeat, even though he knew it brought an end to his Fed Cup career as captain. He had previously stated he would step down after this season, and both he and his players were emotional after the tie.

"I think in terms of quality of games, I think the American players have more experience of this high level," Noah said after the loss. "It always comes down to a couple of key points and these key points, we lost them all. We’re talking about two, three points.

"When you look at them hitting some tennis balls, they’re the same player. But at the end, the champion is the one that wins those two, three points and we could not do it. We lost against the better team, so it’s hard to say. They were better than us."