Serena Williams improved her Fed Cup record to 12-0 with a victory over Johanna Larsson on Day 1.
© Ron Angle
Sloane Stephens made her Fed Cup singles debut against Sofia Arvidsson in the day's first match.
© Ron Angle
By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – Despite heat, humidity and rain that delayed her match more than three hours, Serena Williams stepped up for the U.S. Fed Cup team, capitalizing on her experience and remaining unbeaten in her Fed Cup career.
Williams stayed with her teammates during the delay and came out firing when she finally took to the court, defeating Johanna Larsson, 6-2, 6-2, to level the U.S.'s Fed Cup World Group Play-off against Sweden, 1-1, after Day 1 at the Delray Beach Tennis Center. In the opening match of the best-of-five match series, Sofia Arvidsson spoiled Sloane Stephens’ Fed Cup singles debut, holding off the American, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.
With her win, Williams pushed her stellar Fed Cup record to 12-0, on what turned out to be an evening, instead of afternoon, match that featured vicious backhands and returns from the world No. 1 against the No.66-ranked Larsson.
After cruising through the first set without facing a break point on serve, Serena worked out of trouble in her first two service games of the second set, saving break points in each. From there, she broke Larsson to go up 3-1. Four games later, Williams had the U.S. Fed Cup team on the board, closing out the win when Larsson netted a backhand.
Williams' first serve was effective and efficient, if not as spectacular, for the match. She finished with just five aces but won 80 percent of her first serves and was clearly the aggressor, with 31 winners to just nine for Larsson.
"I just try to fight and do the best I can," Williams said. "I'm here for the team. Even though I don't feel pressure, I'm here to give 100 percent. If I don't feel 100 percent, I'm still going to try to give that. That's what I'm here for. I feel like even though we didn't win our first match, we have a really good team and we're doing really well. We're just going to keep going."
In the opening match, it was the Fed Cup singles rookie vs. the veteran in Stephens vs. Arvidsson, and it was the veteran whose experience came through.
Stephens, 20, was competing in her first singles match for the U.S. Fed Cup team, having played doubles with Liezel Huber in the U.S.’s 5-0 World Group Play-off win over Ukraine last year; she had also been named to the team on two other occasions but did not compete. Arvidsson, 29, on the other hand, was playing in her 83rd career Fed Cup match.
Stephens, ranked 16th in the world, struggled with errors throughout, finishing with 74 unforced to 49 winners for the match.
After a rocky first set, Stephens bounced back strong to begin the second, going up 3-0, as she began hitting with more authority and taking control of the points and holding on to take the set, 6-4. The players then took a heat break and rain briefly delayed play, and after the break Arvidsson came out stronger, breaking twice early and jumping out to a 4-0 lead. Three games later, she gave Sweden the lead by converting her fourth match point when the American netted a forehand volley.
Stephens was disappointed to not come through the win for the team but hopes to have many more opportunities to do so in the future, including Sunday when she faces Larsson.
"I thought I played pretty well. Didn't come out with a 'W,'" Stephens said. "Unfortunate that I didn't get my first Fed Cup live rubber win at this home tie. But it's OK. Obviously [I've] just got to keep pushing and get ready for the next one."
Williams is up first on Sunday against Arvidsson, followed by Stephens and Larsson and the doubles rubber, which is currently scheduled to be between Venus Williams and Varvara Lepchenko vs. Arvidsson and Larson. Captains can adjust their lineups Sunday.
After the matches, U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez said she was pleased with the Day 1 efforts from her players and knows she has the best four singles players in the U.S. ready to take the court Sunday.
"Fortunately, we have a great, solid team with a lot of depth," Fernandez said."It was big for Serena to get a quick start in the first set of her match. I thought the first match could have gone either way. Sloane had opportunities I thought to get ahead early and wasn't able to capitalize. I think the rain delay sort of slowed her down because she had the momentum after she won the second set. But we're in a good position."