Serena Williams and Mary Joe Fernandez at the pre-draw press conference in Worcester.
By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
WORCESTER, Mass. - It has been nearly five years since Serena Williams played for the U.S. Fed Cup Team, but the 13-time Grand Slam champion will be making her return this weekend against Belarus on an injured ankle that is steadily getting better each day.
"It feels good being back. I've really missed it. I look forward to it. I love the team camaraderie," Serena said of her Fed Cup return. She is 7-0 in her Fed Cup career.
It was in Brisbane, Australia, a few weeks ago, in her first WTA tournament since losing in the US Open final last September, that Williams badly twisted her ankle as she served for the match in her second-round victory, and was forced to withdraw before her scheduled quarterfinal match.
It was not the way Williams wanted to open the 2012 season, after missing the Australian Open in 2011 and most of the first half of the year, as she dealt with a blood clot and hematoma amidst her continued recovery from foot surgery the previous fall.
Having won five of her 13 major titles Down Under, she did not want to miss her most successful Grand Slam again. She did play but suffered a disappointing fourth-round upset to Ekaterina Makarova.
She took a few days off after returning home to the U.S., although she did not curtail her training too much for the ankle because of having to face Belarus, which is being led by 2012 Australian Open champion and world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka this weekend in Worcester, Mass. The ankle is improving but is still not 100 percent.
"It was good to take a few days off because it was such an acute injury," she said of her ankle and subsequent preparation. "I've actually been doing pretty well. I hit some balls. I trained a little bit. I've been doing more than I would have done with an injury like this because I knew I had Fed Cup coming up.
"Every day it's feeling better. It's not 100 percent, but it's better than it was last week and two weeks ago. It just needs time to heal," she added.
Venus Williams is also making her return to the U.S. Fed Cup Team since 2007, although while Serena is almost certainly going to be the No. 1 singles player for U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez’s squad, Venus’ status is more in doubt.
Venus has not competed since withdrawing from the 2011 US Open with Sjogren’s Syndrome, a disease that can affect a person’s energy level. If she is unable to play this weekend, world No. 38 Christina McHale could step in as the No. 2 singles player, or another rising American star, Sloane Stephens, who is with the team as a practice partner, could play.
Serena said Venus has been steadily training and is looking forward to being on the same team with her again this week.
"We played on the same team a few times. We always have a blast. We always make the best of everything. We really enjoy every moment together because we don't sometimes get to spend a lot of time together," Serena said.
"She's coming along awesome," she added of Venus. "She's doing really well. I know she's training every day. She's not wanting to take it too fast, come back too soon."
Fernandez will decide who will play this weekend after watching the entire team practice this week, from singles to doubles, with world No. 1 doubles player Liezel Huber also on the team. Facing Azarenka and the Belarussian team will not be easy task for the U.S., with Anastasia Yakimova or Olga Govortsova its No. 2 player.
"It's a tough matchup, having Azarenka coming off winning the Australian Open. She's confident. That's always tough," Fernandez said. "Then their other players are good. Yakimova, Govortsova have been in the top 100. I think Yakimova is around 60 in the world. They have different game styles, so we'll see who they choose to play. We'll do our best. We'll prepare as well as we can. We'll get ready to take each match one at a time."