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Czech retain Fed Cup

STRASBOURG, France (AP) – Czech Republic cemented its status of best team in the world by retaining its Fed Cup title on Sunday after Barbora Strycova and Karolina Pliskova won the decisive doubles match in the final against France.

The pair beat Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic 7-5, 7-5 to secure a 3-2 win for the Czechs on the indoor hard court at Rhenus Sport Arena.

The Czechs won a fifth title in six years, their 10th overall, and became the first team to win three consecutive Fed Cups since Spain from 1993-95. The Czech Republic has been the dominant team of the decade, winning 16 of its last 17 ties dating back to 2010.

Their skipper, Petr Pala, is now the most successful captain in the competition’s history with five titles to his name.

“Our secret? Just fighting on every point, fighting until the end,’’ said Strycova, who also clinched the decisive rubber with Pliskova in last year’s final against Russia.

“It’s a wonderful day. It was not easy, that’s why we are so happy,’’ Pliskova said, while the French players wiped away their tears.

Strycova was the decisive player on Sunday. Before her impressive display in the doubles, she replaced the injured Petra Kvitova at the last minute to defeat Alize Cornet 6-2, 7-6 (4) and keep the defending champions alive in the final.

Caroline Garcia had earlier given France a 2-1 lead with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 win over sixth-ranked Pliskova.

After overpowering Cornet with her mix of deep groundstrokes, slices and rushes to the net, Strycova inspired the Czechs to victory in the doubles with her aggressive tennis.

The first set saw both teams perform well, with excellent net play from the Czechs, who made a decisive break in the 11th game after Mladenovic double-faulted to hand Pliskova and Strycova two break points. The Czechs needed only one as Pliskova fired a return on the baseline that Mladenovic could not handle.

The French reacted immediately by putting pressure on Pliskova’s serve early in the second set with sharp returns but failed to convert two break points. They continued with the same strategy on Strycova’s serve, but again wasted two break points.

The Czechs were more clinical and made the most of Mladenovic’s energy dip. They broke in the next game for a 3-2 lead after Strycova hit a difficult backhand overhead winner. Mladenovic and Garcia did not give up and managed to break Strycova’s serve to level at 4-4 after Garcia hit a stunning forehand down the line.

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