Australia’s chance 45 years in the making


“I’ve always been very patriotic; it’s been 45 years since we won it so it’s obviously been a big achievement in my life. To be picked in the team was the highlight of my life at the time.”

Champions of 1974: Janet Young, Dianne (Fromholtz) Balestrat, manager Vic Edwards and Evonne Goolagong Cawley.Credit:Tennis Australia

This arguably looms as Australia’s best chance since ’74 to win the Fed Cup.

Barty’s 2019 campaign has been nothing short of unbelievable.

With wins in Miami, Roland Garros, Birmingham and last week at the WTA Tour finals in China, she finishes her season as world No.1 and has pocketed just shy of $16.5 million this year.

No one is more proud than Fed Cup captain Alicia Molik, who was commentating in China when Barty won.

“It’s been a phenomenal year and Ash is just continuing to build,” Molik told The Age. “She’s always looking to improve and I think she’s really embraced everything that’s come with her success, she’s become a huge role model.

“That’s one of the first things I noticed about Ash, that she’s always willing to give lots of time to youngsters as they come through.”

On Saturday, Barty will line up alongside Ajla Tomljanovic – who at 26 is making her Fed Cup debut in a final – 21-year-old Priscilla Hon, 24-year-old Astra Sharma and veteran Sam Stosur.

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“Gosh, she’s just fit right in,” Molik said of Tomljanovic, who was cleared to play in the tournament after being granted Australian citizenship. “It’s pretty unique, walking straight into a final, it’s something I was never able to achieve or get to as a player so I just feel very blessed.

“We’ve certainly welcomed her and I know she’s just absolutely loving her experience.”

The former Croatian has got the nod from Molik as Australia’s second singles player, over the highly experienced Stosur. Stosur lost both her singles rubbers in Australia’s semi-final win over Belarus, including a 6-1, 6-1 loss to Victoria Azarenka.

Barty and Stosur will combine in the doubles.

French captain Julien Benneteau has revealed his singles selections with World No.40 Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia, a former top 20 player, to contest both the singles and doubles in the best-of-five rubbers format.

Mladenovic is just one of 11 players to beat Barty in singles this year.

And like Mladenovic, another member of the French team, Alize Cornet, also has fond memories of Perth, having led France to a Hopman Cup title in 2014, while Mladenovic did it in 2017.

Balestrat says she’s never been so excited about Australian women’s tennis.

“No, not like this. This is unbelievable,” she said. “To have a team in the final is one thing. To actually win it would be fantastic. Fantastic for the girls and fantastic for women’s tennis in Australia.

“To have the No.1 player in the world in Ash and to have Sam Stosur as well, both of those players on any day can beat anybody.”

In ’74, Australia defeated Japan, Italy and Great Britain to set up a mouth-watering final against the USA.

Goolagong made light work of Heldman in the first rubber and after taking the first set 6-2 against Jeanne Evert, the fearless teenager in Balestrat was just one set away from winning the Fed Cup for her country. But Evert clawed her way back and won, meaning Goolagong and Young had to clinch victory in a gritty doubles decider, prevailing 7-5, 8-6.

Three years later, at the age of just 20, Balestrat made the Australian Open final, where she was beaten by compatriot Kerry Melville Reid and in the same year reached No.4 in the world.

Many would’ve thought Australia was destined for more Fed Cup success. But Goolagong, Young and Balestrat have been waiting nearly half a century to see their achievement matched.

Molik says the 2019 final represents a unique opportunity for the home side, which holds a 5-1 record over France in the history of the tournament.

“This occasion is different,” Molik said. “On the weekend it’s a final, this isn’t the same as the quarters or the semis. It’s a situation that our players are used to in terms of individual finals.

“I just think it will add to the experience to have four other players on their side and cheering them on, on top of the crowd.”

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