Barty guides Australia into Fed Cup final

Tanya Simon
April 23, 2019

World number nine Ashleigh Barty kept alive Australia's hopes of advancing to their first Fed Cup final in 26 years when she beat former world number one Victoria Azarenka in the second singles of the tie against Belarus in Brisbane on Saturday.

Their battling 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 win set up a title match against either France or Romania in November.

Despite her demoralising loss, Stosur will team up with Barty to face Azarenka and Sabalenka in the crucial decider.

Sabalenka, however, turned up her power game in the third and after establishing a 4-1 lead blew her first match point opportunity in the eighth game on Stosur's serve when she blasted a backhand volley wide with the court open.

The two-time Australian Open champion was in a different league to the former US Open victor, who meekly succumbed 6-1, 6-1 in just 59 minutes.

"It was about either we stay and fight for another match or go home", said Azarenka.

She got a break in game five of the first set, when the Belarusian fired down four double faults, including on break point.

She made it to the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and also won all three matches she played - two singles and doubles - in helping Australia beat the United States 3-2 in the previous round of the Fed Cup at Asheville, North Carolina.

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An Australian Fed Cup record crowd of 9554 across both days sat mesmerised as both teams threw everything at each other in the tie.

It's been an even longer wait between titles, with the last of Australia's seven victories coming in 1974.

Stosur took the second thanks to a service break at 4-3.

Former US Open champion Stosur has often struggled on home soil, although success hasn't been completely elusive.

"Playing in Australia, we know the final's going to be here, so that's just the best feeling ever", she said. "She started very fast, hitting the ball very strong, and I think I was a bit slow".

Barty, who has surged to world No.9, has struck up a friendship with her opponent, reaching a Miami Open doubles semi-final with her three weeks ago.

In the day's opening match, Barty beat Sabalenka 6-2, 6-2 to give Australia a 2-1 lead.

World number nine Barty was ideal all weekend, winning both her singles matches against Sabalenka and Azarenka in straight sets before lining up in the doubles, and she needed to be.

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