STRASBOURG, France Karolina Pliskova overcame Kristina Mladenovic's stubborn resistance to give defending champions Czech Republic a 1-0 lead in the Fed Cup final against France with a thrilling 6-3 4-6 16-14 win on Saturday.In one of the competition's finest rubbers, U.S. Open finalist Pliskova finally wore down Mladenovic after an epic third set which was the longest ever played in a Fed Cup final.U.S. Open finalist Pliskova seemed to be cruising towards a straightforward victory after breezing through the first set but then lost her focus in the second to allow Mladenovic back in the contest.The world number six suffered late nerves, failing to take advantage of two match points, but she proved the fitter player in the end, prevailing after three hours 48 minutes on the Rhenus Sport arena's hardcourt.Double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova takes on Caroline Garcia in the second singles looking to put the Czechs, who have won four of the last five Fed Cup titles, on the brink of victory. Pliskova made only four unforced errors in a near-perfect first set as Mladenovic struggled to find her stride, serving a double fault to give her opponent first blood.
The Czech served three consecutive double faults in the seventh game of the second set to hand Mladenovic two break points, which she saved, but yet another double fault earned the Frenchwoman a break and a 4-3 lead.Pliskova rallied when the Frenchwoman scuffed a backhand wide, but then dropped serve again, giving Mladenovic the opportunity to serve for the set. The local favourite served it out, levelling the match with a forehand winner.
Mladenovic dropped serve in the sixth game of the decider as Pliskova took a 4-2 lead. The Czech served for the match at 5-3 but lost her composure, Mladenovic breaking back with a forehand winner before levelling for 5-5.Pliskova set up two match points in the 18th game, but Mladenovic served an ace on the first and saved the second as her opponent's forehand went wide.Play was interrupted as the Frenchwoman had her left thigh strapped by the trainer before home captain Amelie Mauresmo took over the massaging duties at each change of ends.
Pliskova saved a break point at 10-10 but sent a backhand long to concede what had appeared a decisive break in the 23rd game. Yet she broke back immediately with Mladenovic serving for the match.The Frenchwoman was suffering physically and eventually ran out of steam, conceding defeat on her serve when she sent a shot long. (Writing by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ian Chadband)
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