The U.S. Fed Cup team celebrates its World Group Play-off win over Sweden.
© Ron Angle
By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – Venus Williams felt good, she was focused and she told U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez she was ready to compete in any way she was needed.
Fernandez called on Venus to play the second singles match on Sunday, and the result was Venus' first career Fed Cup tie-clinching win in her first Fed Cup singles match since 2007. In the end, it took eight match points but Venus kept fighting, overcoming 11 double faults to post a 6-3, 7-5 win over Johanna Larsson to secure the U.S. vs. Sweden Fed Cup World Group Play-off.
The victory put the Americans up, 3-1, and guaranteed a spot for the U.S. in the prestigious World Group for 2014. The final result was 3-2 after the U.S. had to default the final doubles match due to injuries to three of its four players.
"When you’re on a team, you just want to do more. Sometimes that can be a lot more pressure," Venus said. "To be honest, I wanted to be out there. I told Mary Joe yesterday I feel good, I feel positive. I pumped myself up and I wanted to be there for the team. It just feels good. I know I’m playing for the U.S. and it’s not just Venus out there. "
The seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus was a substitute for the originally scheduled Sloane Stephens, the world No. 16, who lost her first career Fed Cup singles match to Sofia Arvidsson in three sets on Day 1.
On Day 2, after morning warm-ups Fernandez decided to go with the more experienced Venus. The 32-year-old was up for the job, establishing herself as the stronger player off the ground Sunday and coming through in the big moments. The win improved her stellar Fed Cup record to 19-4, including a doubles win in the U.S.’s 5-0 World Group II win over Belarus last year.
"Our team is a bit banged up, so I had to take that into consideration," Fernandez said of her lineup decision. "At the end of the day, experience just goes a long way. Venus has been there so many times before. To have her in that clinching match was really important. Everybody this morning was ready to play. First thing Sloane said was, ‘Let me become the loudest cheerleader.’ That’s what you want in a team."
The two teams entered Day 2 tied, 1-1. World No. 1 Serena Williams quickly put the U.S. up, 2-1, crushing the world No. 54 Arvidsson, 6-2, 6-1, in the opening match on Day 2 to stay unbeaten in Fed Cup at 13-0 and give her team the lead.
It was the first time both Serena and Venus played singles on the U.S. Fed Cup team since 2007, which coincidentally was also in Delray Beach, with the U.S. defeating Belgium, 5-0, in the quarterfinals.
On Sunday, Venus was struggling to land first serves, but they were effective when landing in, as she won 77 percent of them. But through the first set she was outhitting the No. 66-ranked Larsson and playing the important points better. However, the 24-year-old Swede upped her level of play in the second.
Venus broke for a 4-3 lead and served for the match leading 5-4, but she was broken at love. But she immediately rebounded to break Larsson in the next game when the Swede netted a backhand to give herself another opportunity to serve it out.
In the opening match, the only thing bothering Serena was the sun, causing her to adjust her toss and service motion on one end of the court, which cost her speed but more than made up for it with her ground strokes to win in 57 minutes.
She adjusted to the sun on that side, after having to save three break points in her second service game, and never faced another break point. On the opposite side, her serve was as dominant as usual. She served 10 aces for the match, won 85 percent of her first serves and 60 percent of her second serves. Off the ground, she dictated most of the points, hitting 35 winners.
"If she had won that game, would have been a tougher score or a different match," Serena said of saving the break points. "It was important for me to stay focused and win that game and fight for every point. I was just going for everything. The sun was intense, but got through it. It always feel good to play for your country and to win."
The U.S. Fed Cup team now closes the chapter on its 2013 season after the win over Sweden and a 3-2 quarterfinal loss away to Italy in February. It will have to wait until the 2014 World Group quarterfinals next February to compete again as a team. But importantly, as a member of the World Group, the U.S. will be competing for a chance to win its first Fed Cup title since 2000.
"We have to wait 10 months to play again," Fernandez said. "That’s the hardest thing about Fed Cup, the scheduling and how long it takes between the ties. But we’re still going to be watching each other, supporting each other, pushing each other and we’ll regroup in February next year."