France wins doubles to beat Belgium 3-2 in Fed Cup

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Kristina Mladenovic won all three rubbers she was involved in to lead the way for France. (AP)

MOUILLERON-LE-CAPTIF, France (AP) — Two-time champion France advanced to the Fed Cup semifinals after beating Belgium 3-2 on Sunday, with Amandine Hesse and Kristina Mladenovic winning 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 against Elise Mertens and Kirsten Flipkens in the deciding doubles.

Mladenovic double faulted on her first match point at 40-15 but delivered a strong serve on the next point. It proved enough, sparking wild celebrations from captain Yannick Noah and French staff members at the indoor court in western France.

In the absence of seventh-ranked Caroline Garcia, who is declining to play for France as she focuses on her singles career, the 13th-ranked Mladenovic led the way by winning both her singles in the World Group first-round match.

France will play either the United States or the Netherlands in April. France won the competition in 1997 and 2003 but has lost three times in the final since then, most recently in 2016.

Earlier, Alison Van Uytvanck swept aside Pauline Parmentier 6-1, 6-3 to draw Belgium level with France at 2-2.

Parmentier saved a match point and then forged a break point as Van Uytvanck appeared nervous. Van Uytvanck, who replaced Kirsten Flipkens for the second reverse singles, saved the break point and got another match point when Parmentier sent a two-handed backhand wide. The Belgian took it with a strong serve which Parmentier returned wide.

Earlier, Mladenovic rallied from 3-0 down in the second set to beat Mertens 6-4, 6-4 and put France 2-1 up.

Mladenovic, who leveled the contest with victory against Flipkens on Saturday, broke serve in the fifth game of the second set and then again in the seventh.

Her superior groundstrokes and ability to stay in rallies frustrated Mertens, who made a clumsy unforced error with a wild volley to give Mladenovic three match points at 0-40 in the ninth game.

Mertens, though, fought back to deuce and held serve following a gutsy drop shot and an ace.

Serving for the match, Mladenovic went 40-0 ahead and had another three match points. Mertens saved the first before her opponent clinched the win with a sliced ace.

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