PERTH, Australia -- World number one Ashleigh Barty has enjoyed a career-changing season and is "extremely hungry" to end it on a high by steering Australia to their first Fed Cup in 45 years.
The seven-time champions have not tasted success in the tournament since the days of Evonne Goolagong in 1974, with two-time winners France standing in their way on the hardcourts at Perth Arena starting Saturday.
It will mark the last Fed Cup final played under the current format, with an overhaul next year seeing 12 nations compete in a six-day event in Budapest.
While there will be a huge boost in prize money, it spells an end to home ties, following a similar change to the men's Davis Cup.
Barty, fresh from being crowned WTA Finals champion in Shenzhen on Sunday, leads a team that boasts world number 51 Ajla Tomljanovic making her debut, veteran Samantha Stosur (96), Astra Sharma (108) and Priscilla Hon (126). They are banking on passionate home support to get them over the line.
"This was a week I circled at the beginning of the year that I wanted to target, and to be able to finish the year playing as a team for your nation is pretty special and I've been looking forward to it for a long time," said Barty.
"All of us are extremely hungry -- it's taken us probably two or three years to get into this position and now it's about coming out and enjoying it this weekend."
France captain Julien Benneteau has kept faith with the team who sealed their semi-final win over Romania, led by Kristina Mladenovic, ranked 40 in the world.
She will be backed by 45th-ranked Caroline Garcia, Alize Cornet (60), Fiona Ferro (63) and Pauline Parmentier (122) as they target a first title since 2003.
- Great lesson -
French Open champion Barty and former US Open winner Stosur played all the singles and doubles in their semi-final win over Belarus, but Stosur said captain Alicia Molik had yet to indicate if the same tactic would be deployed.
"All of us want to put our hand up for any match and we're all out preparing as if we will be playing but nobody has been given the nod just yet," said the 35-year-old, who has won 37 Fed Cup rubbers.
"I've played Fed Cup for 16 years so to now be in the final, it's been a long time coming and we want to make the most of it."
Australia hold a 5-1 record over France, although the French won the most recent tie between the two nations in 2000, when Molik was on the team.
While it is Australia's first final since 1993, France made the decider three years ago, losing 3-2 to the Czech Republic. Mladenovic, Garcia and Cornet all played in that clash and believe the experience will help them this weekend.
"That final was a great lesson for me and all of us," said Garcia, who won two singles matches in the tie. "We now have the experience of losing and we don't want to have the feeling of losing a final again.
"We have been there before, whereas the Australian girls haven't. It is an important factor for us."
Ferro is the only French woman not to play a singles rubber in their run to the final, but Benneteau said he expected all his players to be ready to shoulder the burden.
"When you play a Fed Cup final with the number one in the world on the other side, and away, you cannot say that you have an advantage," he said on Wednesday.
"But for sure, I have a lot of options for singles and doubles."
© Agence France-Presse
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