Keys, Stephens Sweep Sunday Singles As Team USA Earns Second Consecutive Fed Cup Final Berth

Sloane Stephens (photo: Ashley Marshall)

WASHINGTON, April 22, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)

Team USA is back in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas final for a second consecutive year. With the United States ahead 2-1 against host France at Aix-en-Provence, team captain Kathy Rinaldi decided to switch out her lineup. She inserted World No. 13 Madison Keys to play in the pivotal fourth rubber against No. 122 Pauline Parmentier, who had only won one of her last seven Fed Cup rubbers. The decision to replace No. 16 CoCo Vandeweghe, who lost to No. 20 Kiki Mladenovic in the second rubber on Saturday, paid dividends – and Keys won 7-6 (4), 6-4. It put Team USA ahead 3-1 and clinched the tie for the Americans.

Next, the defending-champion United States will face the Czech Republic, which defeated Germany 4-1 in the other semifinal tie, in November for the Fed Cup championship. The Americans have won 18 Fed Cup titles and the Czech Republic 10.

“The girls did so well, both today and yesterday,” said Rinaldi after the Americans clinched the tie. “We are very fortunate to have such a strong group and now we are looking forward to what is going to be a great final.

“That’s the goal, to keep the Cup at home.”

Down 1-4 in the first set, Keys reeled off four straight games to push ahead 5-4. Then, she played a solid tie-break against Parmentier and punched home a solid cross-court forehand winner to close it out 7-4. In the second set, Keys broke Parmentier in the fifth game to go ahead 3-2, but surrendered the advantage a game later. However, Keys broke back in the ninth game for a 5-4 advantage, then served out the rubber to clinch victory for the United States.

Asked during an on-court interview with French TV after her win whether she knew if she would play the fourth rubber singles match on Sunday, Keys said, “It was always up in the air, but I was prepared.” In a later interview, she said, “It feels amazing, but not for me – but to do that for this team and help us back to the final.

“I knew (Pauline) would play well; she was so good against Sloane yesterday.”

In outpointing Parmentier 80-72, Keys hit 22 winners, caused her French opponent into hitting 31 unforced errors, and won four of seven break-point opportunities.

“I love playing in atmospheres like this, even if they are not all cheering for you,” said Keys of the mostly pro-French crowd packed inside of Arena du Pays D’Aix. “It still makes for a great game.”

Stephens crushes Mladenovic

In Sunday’s opening rubber, Sloane Stephens came out focused and clear from start to finish – and with a game plan that took just 54 minutes to execute. It added up to a dominating 6-2, 6-0 win for the defending U.S. Open champion. Her service game was solid – she placed 83 percent of her first serves in play and won 24 of 34 first-serve points – and she played attacking tennis against Mladenovic. Stephens hit 16 winners and caused Mladinovic into hitting 25 unforced errors. The American moved about the court with confidence, hitting beautiful volleys and solid forehands, unlike Saturday. A day after saving five set points against Parmentier, Stephens took charge against the overmatched Mladinovic, whose body language was completely different than a day earlier when she came from a set down to beat CoCo Vandeweghe in three sets on Saturday.

“I knew I had to come out and play really well,” said Stephens, during an on-court interview after putting the Americans ahead. “Obviously, Fed Cup is always really tough and I’ve struggled in the past. So, I’m happy I played hard and put us a point closer to the final.

“I just had to play my heart out and do whatever I could to get my team up 2-1. The girls were super pumped and behind me. They were acting crazy on the bench. I’m just really happy to get the win.”