Kristina Mladenovic leads France into battle against Spain, who are without top 10 star Garbine Muguruza, as both nations seek to return to the elite Fed Cup World Group in 2018.
France and Spain clash in this weekend’s crucial Fed Cup World Group play-off as both countries target an immediate return to the World Group in Roanne, France.
Spain were edged 3-2 by three-time defending champions Czech Republic back in February in the World Group first round, while 2016 Fed Cup runners-up France were no match for Switzerland, going down 4-1.
However the French team have the clear edge in this tie - despite some controversy engulfing the side involving the likes of Caroline Garcia and Oceane Dodin - with French Open winner Garbine Muguruza, Carla Suarez Navarro and Lara Arruabarrena all missing for Spain.
France vs Spain Fed Cup match schedule
Rubber #1: Kristina Mladenovic (FRA) vs Silvia Soler-Espinosa (SPA), Saturday, 22 April, 2:00pm local time/ 1:00pm BST
France go into this world group play-off as favourites, and their top-ranked player, Kristina Mladenovic has got the responsibility of getting the hosts off to a winning start as she takes on Spanish number five, Silvia Soler-Espinosa on Saturday. Mladenovic lost her first two matches of the year in Hobart and the Australian Open, but she has been in superb form since then, winning her first career title in St.Petersburg, reaching the final in Acapulco, and getting the semi-finals at indian Wells. Mladenovic's excellent form has lifted her into the top 20, and her country will expect her to justify that ranking with two points against a depleted Spanish team.
Kristina Mladenovic. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Mladenovic has been quite critical about some of her teammates who have refused to join up with the squad- Caroline Garcia (who claimed she had a back injury, and was forced by the Federation to undergo a medical to prove her claims) and Oceane Dodin in particular, and she will look to channel that energy into propelling the French back into the world group.
Mladenovic suffered a heart-breaking loss to Karolina Pliskova in the opening rubber of last year's final- she was beaten 16-14 in a gripping final set- and she won one and lost one as France were well beaten by Switzerland in this year's quarter-final tie in February. Overall, her Fed Cup singles' record reads an ordinary 4-6, (although she is an outstanding 9-2 in doubles rubbers), and she will be keen to improve that record when she serves things off in Roanne against a player ranked 137 places below.
First out for Spain is Silver-Soler Espinosa, who is way down at number 156 in the world rankings. Unlike Mladenovic, who has been tearing through WTA draws, Espinosa has won just one main draw match all year, and that was in her most recent tournament in Bogota. she has spent most of the season playing qualifiers (and losing quite a handful of them), and when she does manage to get through, she would lose in the opening round of the main draw, as was the case in Hobart, Kuala Lumpur, Dubai and Charleston.
Mladenovic and Soler-Espinosa have met five times on the WTA Tour, with the Frenchwoman leading the series 4-1. Crucially, two of her four victories have been on clay. Everything points to a Mladenovic victory here, as she looks to set France on their way back to the elite group of the Fed Cup.
Rubber #2: Pauline Parmentier (FRA) vs Sara Sorribes-Tormo (SPA), Saturday, 22 April, 3:30pm local time/ 2:30pm BST
With Alize Cornet struggling with a shoulder injury, France have gone with the Pauline Parmentier for the Saturday's second singles' rubber.
Sara Sorribes Tormo. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Parmentier has been in decent form lately, compiling respectable third round runs in Indian Wells and Miami, after reaching the quarter finals in Acapulco. Having not played a Fed Cup singles' tie since 2013, Parmentier was thrust into the line of fire in February's quarter-finals, as France looked to stay alive in their tie against Switzerland. She could not quite deliver, losing to Belinda Bencic in straight sets to condemn the French to the world group play-offs. That was her eighth loss in 12 Fed cup singles' rubbers. She will have a chance to make amends when she plays Sara Sorribes-Tormo on Saturday.
In the absence of Garbine Muguruza, Carla Suarez-Navarro and Lara Arruabarrena, 20-year-old Sara Sorribes-Tormo assumes the role of the leader of the Spanish contingent (by rankings at least). She unsurprisingly struggled on hard courts at the start of the year, winning just three main draw matches from Shenzhen to Monterrey, but she won as many matches on her return to clay in Bogota, beating Denisa Allettova, Katerina Siniakova, and Magda Linette before falling to compatriot, Lara Arruabarrena. This will be her first ever meeting with Parmentier. The Frenchwoman is not the most daunting opponent, and the world number 82 will fancy this even more given that the tie will be played on indoor clay. We could well be level after Saturday's rubbers.
Latest France vs Spain Fed Cup results
Check back here from April 22 for the latest France vs Spain Fed Cup World Group play-off results!
Kristina Mladenovic, Alize Cornet, Pauline Parmentier, Amanadine Hesse, Yannick Noah (captain)
Sara Sorribes Tormo, Silvia Soler-Espinosa, Olga Saez Larra, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, Conchita Martine (captain)
France, Fed Cup runners-up to Czech Republic last year, will be determined to reclaim a place in the elite eight-nation World Group, and despite some in-fighting from players and the French Federation, they seem well-placed to do just that on the indoor clay courts of Roanne this weekend.
Caroline Garcia, who initially said she wouldn’t be playing Fed Cup in 2017 but was picked for this tie nonetheless, has pulled out with a back issue, while rising star Oceane Dodin has refused to play, risking a five-year Fed Cup suspension from the French Federation.
Nevertheless, the crux of the French team remains, led by Kristina Mladenovic - who has been on fire this season - and Alize Cornet, who struggles in the Fed Cup environment but is a more than handy player to have in the side.
Spain are severely depleted without their top three ranked players - especially Garbine Muguruza - and will start as big underdogs, with Sara Sorribes Tormo and Silvia Soler-Espinosa tasked with leading the team to what would be a huge upset away from home.
Fed Cup format
Fed Cup ties are played over the best of five rubbers over two days. Two singles rubbers are played on Saturday, followed by the reverse singles rubbers on Sunday with the tie going to a deciding doubles rubber if necessary.
Player nominations can be changed up until an hour before the start of play.
One nation hosts the tie, with the choice of ground decided by where the two competing teams played last time. France will host Spain at the Halle Andre Vacheresse indoor clay court facility in Roanne.
The winner of the France vs Spain World Group play-off tie will be assured of a place among the elite eight-nation World Group for the 2018 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas.
France vs Spain: The history
Head to Head: Spain leads 5-4
This will be just the second time France and Spain have faced off in a World Group play-off tie, with eight of their nine clashes coming in the World Group first round or later in the competition.
Spain beat France 4-1 in their last clash - the World Group play-offs in 2011 - with Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, now a veteran in the current squad and ranked in the 600s, winning both her singles matches.
France won the three previous ties before that showdown, but Spain hold a narrow overall head-to-head lead of 5-4 dating back to their first encounter in 1982.
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