The world No.51 looked nervous from the opening game of the match, where she could barely find a first serve. She saved two break points but couldn’t hold off a third, with Mladenovic taking the opening game of the final.
The Australian was on the back foot early, being made to work all across the court that was beginning to bake in the sunshine as the Perth temperature soared past 30 degrees late in the morning, reaching a scorching top of 39 degrees.
Tomljanovic had in fact twice represented Croatia at Fed Cup level but was thrown into the Australian team for the final after being given the green light by tennis authorities. She reflected on the different type of pressure when playing in a team as compared to an individual tournament, in which she claimed it was easier to allow yourself to accept to be having a bad day.
“But you don’t get to that point in a match like this because you just have this hope that it’s going to start going in your favour,’’ Tomljanovic said. “That’s just my personality, I want it even more when it’s for others; for my teammates and my country.”
Molik, who has been lauded by all members of her squad, was both defensive and protective of Tomljanovic, empathising with the difficult position she was put in.
Now comes the hard decision for Molik of whether to stick with Tomljanovic or turn to Australia’s most successful Fed Cup player ever in Stosur. “I was really proud of her,” Molik said of Tomljanovic.
“There aren’t many tournaments throughout the year where you get a second bite of the cherry immediately the day after.
“I know she’s excited about tomorrow if she gets the nod, that’s probably something we’re going to have to discuss as a team.”
Barty’s mouth-watering clash with Mladenovic will go a long way towards determining who claims the trophy. Should the scores be level after the reverse singles, Barty will partner Stosur to face Mladenovic and Garcia in a deciding doubles rubber.
‘‘I think that’s probably the best tennis match I’ve ever played in my life,’’ an elated Barty said. ‘‘I’m so happy to be back here in Perth. I started my year here so it’s a hell of a way to finish it off, too.’’
Fresh from partnering Hungary’s Timea Babos to take out the doubles title at last week’s season-ending WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China, Mladenovic is set to pose a stern test for Barty. The Frenchwoman sounded an ominous warning in a match where she wielded her lethal forehand to devastating effect.
‘‘I really [played] almost a perfect match. I was really in the zone,’’ she said. ‘‘I love this kind of event. The more pressure it is, the more special is the event. I love fighting and I’m so proud to give this first point to my team, to my country.’’
Sam McClure won the Clinton Grybas rising star award at the AFL media association awards in 2015.