Czech Republic tennis player Petra Kvitova returns a shot during a training session on the eve of the Fed Cup Final between France and Czech Republic in Strasbourg, eastern France, Friday, Nov. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)
Jean-Francois Badias

Kristina Mladenovic opens play for France against No. 6 Karolina Pliskova in its Fed Cup final matchup against the two-time defending champ Czech Republic.

By Associated Press
November 11, 2016

STRASBOURG, France (AP) — France's Kristina Mladenovic will open play against world No. 6 Karolina Pliskova in the Fed Cup final, as the hosts look to break the Czech Republic's stranglehold on the event this weekend.

The Czechs are bidding for a fifth title in six years on an indoor hard court at Rhenus Sport arena in Strasbourg.

They won the most recent tie between them in the semifinals last year, and are the overwhelming favorites to become the first team to win three consecutive Fed Cups since Spain from 1993–95.

''We have a very difficult team ahead of us. We'll give it a good fight,'' said France captain Amelie Mauresmo, who won France's second and last title in 2003 as a player.

The Czech Republic has been the dominant team of the decade, winning 15 of its past 16 ties dating to 2010. It again fields a formidable team made of three top-20 players: Pliskova, the runner-up at the U.S Open, No. 11 Petra Kvitova, and No. 20 Barbora Strycova.

The hosts don't have the same pedigree: France's best player, Caroline Garcia, was ranked 23 in the world. But Mauresmo hopes her players' fighting spirit, backed by a home crowd, can spring a surprise.

''I'm really looking forward to it, but I'd rather be facing a team other than the Czechs,'' said Garcia, who has won two WTA titles this year, including in Strasbourg. ''They have so many great players, that they could even make two teams from all the players they have in the top 50.''

Garcia will take on Kvitova, the two-time Wimbledon champion in the second singles.

Sunday features the reverse singles, and finishes with doubles, when Alize Cornet and Pauline Parmentier face Czechs Strycova and Lucie Hradecka.

Depending on how the tie goes, Mauresmo could send out Garcia and Mladenovic in the doubles. They won the French Open, and came from a set down to win the decisive rubber against the Netherlands in the semifinals.

Mladenovic and/or Garcia have featured in every French rubber this year, but were cleared to play only in September after the French Tennis Federation lifted their ban. The pair was provisionally suspended for ''damaging'' the federation's image at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where the players criticized the FTT over a clothing mix-up after their defeat in the first round of the doubles.

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