TENNIS FED CUP FINAL
Australia's bid to win the Fed Cup for the first time in 45 years has ended in heartbreak with Kristina Mladenovic delivering a heroic performance across both singles and doubles to propel France to a third crown in Perth.
Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia were too good for world No.1 singles player Ashleigh Barty and Samantha Stosur in Sunday's doubles decider, cruising to a 6-4 6-3 victory to secure France their first Fed Cup title since 2003.
Mladenovic earlier stunned Barty 2-6 6-4 7-6 (7-1) in an epic two-and-a-half hour singles battle at RAC Arena to put France ahead in the best-of-five rubbers final.
It is Australia's ninth straight Fed Cup final loss following defeats in 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1984 and 1993.
A distraught Barty wept at the trophy presentation after falling short of what would have been a special victory on home soil.
"I think you can see how much it means to all of us," Barty later said.
"Obviously it's bitterly disappointing to be sitting here not with the result that we were after.
"But all in all, it's about taking a little bit of perspective and this team - this group of girls - personally, I wouldn't want to be sitting here with anyone else.
"It's been an amazing journey."
French No.1 Mladenovic's phenomenal weekend, which also included a straight-sets drubbing of Ajla Tomljanovic, proved to be the difference between the two nations.
"I think she carried all of the French team on her shoulders," Australia captain Alicia Molik said.
"It was an unbelievable display."
Having combined to win the French Open doubles crown in 2016, Mladenovic and Garcia were clinical in the deciding rubber.
Australia managed to save two championship points but it was only a matter of time before Mladenovic fittingly served out the match.
It was sweet redemption for Mladenovic and Garcia, who lost the deciding doubles rubber to the Czech Republic in the 2016 Fed Cup final.
"It's lots of emotion to share this with Caro after three years ago we failed on the last step of the tie," Mladenovic said.
"Today we just wanted to take this little revenge for ourselves and it's just not describable how we feel right now."
Tomljanovic earlier overcame her nightmare debut to defeat Pauline Parmentier 6-4 7-5 in the reverse singles and send the final to a doubles decider.
Tomljanovic was overcome by nerves while representing Australia for the first time on Saturday, losing 6-1 6-1 to a rampant Mladenovic.
But there were no signs of anxiety in a vastly-improved performance on Sunday.
France opted to bring in world No.122 Parmentier as a substitute for Garcia, who Barty thrashed 6-0 6-0 in Saturday's singles rubber.
Barty had gone into Sunday's reverse singles clash with Mladenovic as the hot favourite after her annihilation of Garcia the previous day.
But world No.40 Mladenovic again proved too good, storming back from being a set down to consolidate her defeat of Barty on clay in Rome six months ago.
In a match full of momentum swings, Barty rode a wave of support from the near-capacity crowd to go up 6-5 in the third set.
But the equally determined Mladenovic served to love and didn't blink during a ruthless tiebreaker.