France out to spoil Australian Fed Cup party
France might be on Australian soil as they attempt to win a third Fed Cup tennis crown in Perth this weekend, but they feel right at home and brimming with confidence.
Team captain Julien Benneteau has kept faith with the five women who sealed their semi-final win over Romania, led by Kristina Mladenovic, ranked 40 in the world.
She is backed by Caroline Garcia (45), Alize Cornet (60), Fiona Ferro (63) and Pauline Parmentier (122) as they target a first title since 2003.
As well as an Australian team spearheaded by world number one Ashleigh Barty and veteran Sam Stosur, they will have to deal with a crowd at Perth Arena willing their home country towards a first title since 1974.
But returning to the Australian west coast city has brought back fond memories for Mladenovic and Cornet, who separately led France to Hopman Cup titles before the mixed team event was axed this year for the new ATP Cup.
Mladenovic hopes that bodes well.
"From the first time I stepped on the court yesterday, I had such great memories and great vibes," Mladenovic, who partnered Richard Gasquet to win the Hopman Cup in 2017, told reporters on Wednesday.
"It's definitely an advantage when you know the court and where you've won in the past.
"When you've won a tough competition somewhere it's always a great place for you where you feel confident and you feel like you can repeat the story," she added.
Cornet won the Hopman Cup with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2014. Garcia also represented France at the tournament, in 2016 when Australia won.
Seven-time Fed Cup champions Australia hold a 5-1 record over two-time winners France, although the French triumphed in the most recent tie between the two nations in 2000.
While the odds might be stacked in Australia's favour, Mladenovic said her team had the advantage of playing a Fed Cup final before, in 2016, and that could prove invaluable.
Mladenovic, Garcia and Cornet all featured in that tie, which they agonisingly lost 3-2 to the Czech Republic.
"Even though the last one was at home, I still think it's a big advantage to know how it feels to be up there with all the pressure," Mladenovic said.
"I'm optimistic and positive about this aspect."
France, who also won the Fed Cup in 1997, qualified for the final with a thrilling 3-2 win over Romania in Rennes in spite of losing two singles matches to Simona Halep.
Garcia and Parmentier both won in the other singles to set up a deciding doubles match in which Garcia and Mladenovic beat Halep and Monica Niculescu.
Benneteau has yet to indicate who will play in Perth on Saturday and Sunday.