WASHINGTON, February 11, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
The defending champion United States punched its ticket to the 2018 Fed Cup semifinals with a convincing 3-1 victory over the Netherlands at U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, North Carolina, on Sunday afternoon. It marked Team USA’s 150th Fed Cup tie victory and it advanced them to play at France on April 21-22.
Venus Williams, who gave the Americans an early 1-0 lead thanks to a straight-set win over Arantxa Rus in her 1,000th career singles match on Saturday, was dominant in beating Richel Hogenkamp, 7-5, 6-1, in just 66 minutes. It was her 12th straight Fed Cup victory, and it powered the Americans into the semifinal round as Williams contributed two of the three points for the United States. The other point was won by CoCo Vandeweghe, who came from behind to gut out a three-setter over Hogenkamp in Saturday’s second rubber.
“Honestly, I would like to think that CoCo (Vandeweghe) wore her (Hogenkamp) down some yesterday,” said Williams, on court after her win. “It gave me an opportunity to be able to close it out for the USA.”
Up 3-0, love-30 in the opening set, Williams lost eight straight points against the battling 108th-ranked Hogenkamp. Then, the eighth-ranked Williams regained her rhythm, raised the level of her play, and made the necessary adjustments that allowed her to take control of the set. She captured the final 11 points, which included breaking the Dutchwoman at love, to close out the 42-minute opening set, 7-5.
Then, Williams continued asserting her dominance by breaking Hogenkamp’s resolve – and her serve – in the fourth and sixth games. Also, she utilized a big kick serve to her advantage in surging ahead 5-1. Moments later, Williams served out the win and received a celebratory hug at the net from her team captain, Kathy Rinaldi, plus high fives from her Fed Cup teammates – sister Serena Williams, Lauren Davis and Vandeweghe. Then, with Davis waving a gigantic American flag, the foursome enjoyed a victory lap around the court much to the delight of the partisan American crowd.
As Venus Williams showed, winning for one’s country never gets old. The 37-year-old, seven-time Grand Slam champion and four-time Olympic gold medalist was plugged in from the start of her tie-clinching victory to its conclusion. Williams won 71 percent (27 of 38) of her first-serve points, hit 21 winners, broke Hogenkamp four times in four tries, and caused her opponent to commit 20 unforced errors. Williams outpointed Hogenkamp by an impressive 67-44 margin.
“We only get to do this for a moment in our career,” said Williams. “Honestly, I think we are all a team out here. It was all of us together and it felt awesome. There’s nothing like playing for your country.”
Then, it was Rinaldi’s turn to give praise and thanks, both to Venus who was standing next to her on court and the rest of her victorious United States team. She said, “It’s been an amazing adventure and journey, starting with Venus last year and now with Serena joining us. It’s been an incredible week.”
Williams Sisters Team-Up
Finally, Rinaldi surprised the capacity crowd by announcing during the on-court interview that Serena Williams’ return to competitive tennis would be with her sister Venus – instead of her originally scheduled partner Davis – in the dead rubber doubles match, a mere formality since the Americans already clinched.
The Williams sisters received a loud ovation when they returned to the court to play against Lesley Kerkhove and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands. With the tie already secured, it gave them a chance to have some fun while also affording Serena a chance to play in her first official match since winning the 2017 Australian Open. It was also her first Fed Cup match since 2015.
The last time the Williams sisters played doubles together was in a first-round loss to Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova in the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics. So, they could be forgiven for looking a bit rusty as Kerkhove and Schuurs won the first set 6-2 after breaking both sisters to take an early 3-0 lead. Then, the Dutch pair coasted in the second set, 6-3, as Venus Williams double faulted on match point to win the rubber in straight sets.
— Fed Cup (@FedCup) 11. Februar 2018
Despite losing the doubles point, Serena Williams was upbeat when interviewed on court afterwards. “It was really special to be back out here with Venus and that Team USA won today,” she said.
Speaking of Serena, give her a grade of “C” for average – which leaves room for improvement. In the first set, she shanked a routine volley that caused her much embarrassment, but redeemed herself in the second set when she saved break points on her serve. Her serve was much improved in the second set and she got to face some pressure situations. While there will be much discussion in the coming days, it was definitely a pleasure to see Serena return to competitive tennis.
About the author
Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.