WASHINGTON, February 11, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
With 5-month-old daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian looking totally adorable wearing a red and white headband and sitting on her dad’s lap in the front row – almost within arm’s reach of her famous mom – Serena Williams sat with the rest of her United States Fed Cup teammates watching Venus Williams play against Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands. It was very much a family friendly atmosphere – and one which benefited the Americans against the overmatched Dutch.
The defending champion United States won both of its singles rubbers against the Netherlands to gain a commanding 2-0 lead after the first day of their first-round Fed Cup tie.
A sellout crowd of 4,500 fans inside U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, North Carolina, cheered both of the Williams sisters as they walked out onto the court Saturday afternoon. And, throughout the opening day of the tie, much of the attention was focused on 37-year-old Venus Williams, who was playing her 1,000 career singles match, and looking at Serena’s reactions to everything unfolding on the court.
The 8th-ranked Williams, who came into her first singles rubber against the left-handed Rus riding high on a 10-match winning streak, won easily, 6-1, 6-4, and the United States’ Fed Cup title defense got off to a perfect start.
The big hitting Williams came out attacking from the beginning and found her rhythm quickly. After just 18 minutes, she commanded a 4-1 lead. She broke her 124th-ranked opponent in the next game and closed out the set 6-1 with a big serve and a return long for Rus’ 10th unforced error. It was a comfortable opening half hour for the Americans that made the home crowd quite happy.
The second set began with five consecutive service breaks – break dancing, anyone? – before Williams finally held after saving a break point to go ahead of Rus 4-2. Then, the Dutchwoman finally held her serve for the first time since early in the rubber. However, Williams continued to be the aggressor, both at the net and from the baseline. She held to go ahead 5-3. A game later, with the match on her racket, Williams showed championship form as she closed out the rubber on first match point for the victory, 6-1, 6-4, in 1 hour and 21 minutes, to put the Americans in great position.
Williams played aggressive when she needed – she broke Rus five times in 14 opportunities – and was the more confident player with the bigger weapons. She outpointed Rus 67-51.
“It’s never easy and it’s always a challenge,” said Williams during an on-court interview after her win. “On paper, today I looked like I should win but it was a battle and I’m glad to get through that. I’m glad it’s a battle the U.S. won.
“I knew I just needed to hang on. There’s a little bit of altitude here and I like to go big. So, it was finding that balance between going big and going too big. Today’s match will hopefully help me for tomorrow.”
By winning her 20th career Fed Cup rubber, Williams joined Billie Jean King, Chrissie Evert and Lindsay Davenport to become the fourth American woman to have 20 or more Fed Cup singles wins.
Vandeweghe Fights Past Hogenkamp
With the United States ahead 1-0, up next the Netherlands’ Richel Hogenkamp, ranked 108th, had the unenviable task of ending 17th-ranked CoCo Vandeweghe‘s 12-match Fed Cup winning streak. Hogenkamp was up to the challenge and nearly pulled off an upset of Vandeweghe. However, the American rallied from a set down to win 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3.
Down 2-4, Hogenkamp rallied to win the first set 6-4 as Vandeweghe played unsteady and did not look like a player who had won a dozen consecutive Fed Cup matches. She double-faulted seven times and was broken on two of seven break points she faced. Then, down 2-0 in the second set, Vandeweghe angrily smashed her racket four times – said a few expletives – and tossed it to the ground. The frustration clearly showed. However, Vandeweghe began to find her range – and herself – and instead of being down 0-4, she lifted her game and got back on serve at 3-all. Then, Vandeweghe was broken serving for the set at 5-4, and on her next serve was down 5-6 serving just to stay in the match. This time, the American was up to the task and held her serve to force a tie-break.
In the tie-break, Hogenkamp went ahead 2-0, before Vandeweghe won four straight points for a commanding 4-2 lead. Then, she went ahead 5-3 with a smash winner at the net that was followed by a touch volley winner. However, Hogenkamp saved three set points and tied it 6-all, needing just two points to win the rubber. Then, the Dutchwoman hit a return long and it gave Vandeweghe her fourth set point. She didn’t waste this opportunity. The American hit an ace down the T to win the tie-break 8-6. After a one-hour second set alone, it was on to a decisive third set.
On serve at 2-1, Vandeweghe converted on her fourth break point of the game against a punched out Hogenkamp to push ahead 3-1. Then, she gained some momentum in holding her serve to go ahead 4-1 with the finish in sight. After holding serve, Hogenkamp showed some frustration of her own in the next game, but kept it together before Vandeweghe saved a break point. Finally, the American held her serve to put her team a game way from victory as the rubber reached the two hour and 30 minute mark. Hogenkamp held and it gave Vandeweghe a chance to serve it out for a 2-0 lead in the tie. The noise from the crowd intensified with each new point. Vandeweghe finished with a flourish by serving out the win. She hit a forehand winner on first match point and received a tremendous hug at the net from her team captain Kathy Rinaldi.
— Fed Cup (@FedCup) 10. Februar 2018
Somehow, Vandeweghe increased the level of her game when she needed it most and it gives the Americans some momentum going into the second day of the tie.
“First and foremost, I was getting back in a match rhythm,” said Vandeweghe after the match. “I’m human; I make mistakes. I apologize (for the racket), but I got the win.
“To have my teammates cheering for me, it gave me goosebumps.”
• This is the first Fed Cup meeting in two decades for the United States and the Netherlands – and their ninth overall.
• The victory for Venus Williams was her 776th singles victory of her career.
About the author
Michael Dickens is a Washington, D.C.-area freelance journalist who writes and blogs about tennis.