Madison Keys defeated Alize Cornet to level the tie 1-1 after Day 1.
© Ron Angle
Sloane Stephens fell to Caroline Garcia in the opening match.
© Ron Angle
By Sandra Harwitt, special to USTA.com
ST. LOUIS – Sloane Stephens and Madison Keys came into the first day of Fed Cup Play-off action against France at the Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis with the best of attitudes and high hopes.
While both gave their best effort in the opening singles matches of the weekend, it was Keys who saved the day for the U.S. The 19-year-old captured her first Fed Cup singles win, 6-7(4), 7-6(4), 6-3, over France’s top player, Alize Cornet, in nearly three hours to level the tie at 1-1 after Stephens fell to Caroline Garcia, 6-3, 6-2, in the opening match.
“Yeah, just really excited to get that win and get up on the board,” Keys said. “I thought I played OK in the first set, had a couple chances that I missed. Really dug deep in the second set, and thought I played pretty well in the third to be able to close it out.”
Keys wasn’t kidding when she implied she had to dig deep – in the first set she fell behind 4-1 and in the second set she trailed 3-1 – so it wasn’t until the third set that she didn’t face an uphill battle. Cornet was only three points away from clinching the match in the second-set tiebreak, but Keys refused to surrender.
“I think I was being aggressive and taking time away, and really looking for my forehand and just keeping the pressure on,” said Keys, unable to rein in her broad smile. “That’s probably what I was doing best today.”
Cornet started to feel pain from a left adductor injury by the end of the second set, but she also was feeling the heat from Keys’ shot-making. As the match progressed, Keys was hitting bigger, harder and taking the ball earlier – a winning formula, for sure.
In the third set, Keys raced to a 4-1 lead but was unable to serve out the match at 5-2 when two of her last three serves in the eighth game were nervous double faults.
Keys, however, didn’t have to attempt to serve out the match. Cornet surrendered her serve in the ninth game. In that final game, Cornet served up three double faults – she had 15 overall in the match – and two of them were on the final two points.
In the first match, Stephens just couldn’t find a winning rhythm against a pumped up 19-year-old Caroline Garcia, who arrived in St. Louis having won her first career title by beating world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic in the Bogota, Colombia, final last week.
Stephens started out well, taking a 2-1 lead with a service break. She had a game point to go ahead 3-1, but ended up surrendering her serve in that fourth game. From that point on, Garcia began to play powerful and aggressive tennis, winning five of the next six games to take the first set and continuing that momentum into the second.
“I thought she was playing really solid,” said Stephens, giving her opponent the credit deserved for a match well played. “She wasn’t missing at all. She served really well. She was just that much better than me today. She played some really great points.”
Although Stephens is 0-2 in Fed Cup singles matches, she is scheduled to face Cornet first on Sunday – so her first Fed Cup match victory could still happen this week. As for Cornet, she said she would see how she felt when she wakes up Sunday morning. In the second singles match, Keys is scheduled to face Garcia, followed by the doubles match, currently slated to be Christina McHale and Lauren Davis of the U.S. versus Virginie Razzano and Claire Feuerstein of France.
For U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez, the day ended with remaining hope that the team can win the weekend, which would guarantee the U.S. a berth in the 2015 Fed Cup World Group and a chance to compete for the Fed Cup title. The loser of the tie will be relegated to World Group II for 2015.
“Everybody goes back and eats a little dinner, gets a little massage, hopefully, and we’ll talk about the match ups and all the possibilities,” Fernandez said of the team’s plans. “Sloane and Madison can talk about what they thought about their opponents, and then we’ll prepare to go again tomorrow.”