Sydney: Caroline Garcia guided France into a United Cup semi-final against Iga Swiatek’s Poland on Thursday, winning a tough singles rubber and backing up in the mixed doubles to send Norway packing.
After she came through a titanic struggle against unheralded Malene Helgo 6-2, 6-7 (6/8), 7-6 (7/5), a red-hot Casper Ruud swept past Adrian Mannarino 6-1, 6-4 to level the tie in Sydney.
But Garcia returned to partner Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the deciding mixed doubles, battling to a thrilling 7-5, 6-4 win over Ruud and Ulrikke Eikeri to stay in the mixed teams tournament.
“It’s so nice. We play an individual sport and a few times in the year we have the chance to represent Team France,” Garcia said.
“We are ... very far from home and it’s nice in the city already we can see there are so many French. It’s so great to have that many ... fans here cheering us on and it’s part of the United Cup I think.”
With her victory over Helgo, world number 20 Garcia extended her singles record this year to 3-0, but it was an uphill climb against a player ranked 544.
Her previous two singles wins at the United Cup came in three sets, and this was no different with Helgo putting up a huge fight.
Slipped down the rankings
Garcia, who has slipped down the rankings after hitting a career-high four in 2018, finally got over the line despite missing a match point in the second-set tiebreak.
“It was a crazy match. Malene was a player I didn’t know but she just hit the ball so well,” Garcia said.
“It’s only the third match of the season and I’m exhausted already.”
Ruud won all three of his singles matches at the United Cup in straight sets for the perfect lead in to the Australian Open.
None of his opponents, who also included Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor and Croat Borna Coric, won more than four games in a set and he again served well against Mannarino, winning 88 per cent of his first-serve points.
“I think just early breaks both sets, serving well from my side. I don’t think I faced a break point,” Ruud said of how he won.
“That’s a great stat for my standard of serving, so just really pleased, happy with the level.”
The last quarter-final, between Greece and Germany, will be decided on Friday with world No 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas pitted against world No 7 Alexander Zverev.
The winner will face Australia in Saturday’s semi-finals.