Christina McHale gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead.
© Ron C. Angle
Serena Williams defeated Elina Svitolina in straight sets.
© Ron C. Angle
By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
KHARKIV, Ukraine – Behind a dominating win from Serena Williams and a comeback three-set win for Christina McHale, the U.S. Fed Cup Team is now just one win away from returning to the World Group in 2013.
McHale regrouped after losing the second set to dictate and take control of points in the third and defeat Lesia Tsurenko 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 and then Williams overwhelmed 17-year-old Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-1 to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead over Ukraine on Day 1 in the best-of-five match Fed Cup World Group Playoffs at the Superior Golf Resort and Spa.
With one more victory Sunday, the U.S. Fed Cup Team will clinch the tie and book its place back in the prestigious World Group for 2013 after a one-year absence in 2012.
With her win over Svitolina, a former world No. 1 junior player, Williams remained undefeated in her Fed Cup career with a perfect 10-0. She was not perfect Saturday but her experience and game were just too much for the young Ukrainian, who played well, making her Fed Cup debut.
Williams had a chance to win the second set without dropping a game, but allowed herself to be broken for just the second time in the match after dropping serve once in the first set for 2-all. However, in the next game she hit consecutive return winners to earn a break point chance and then win the match, closing it out with a backhand crosscourt winner, one of her 14 total winners in the match to 19 unforced errors.
She complemented her young opponent and was pleased with the way she was able to impose her style of play to take control of the match.
"I was out there working on my game and doing the best I can," Williams said. "I thought she played pretty good. I thought she had a very good game and she is very young so she has time to develop it to be even better than it already is."
A light rain fell during the second match and Williams had her ankle, which she injured earlier this year, re-taped as a precaution at one point. But she maintained her focus even with the large lead and in fact it kept motivating her to stay aggressive.
"It is not really hard for me," she said of keeping her focus with the lead. "My thing is just to get out of there as quick as I can. I think it is easier in Fed Cup because you have a captain on the sideline to help you and encourage you and completely motivate you to stay focused."
In an evenly-played first match that featured many long rallies, McHale, the world No. 36, comfortably won the first set but Tsurenko, the world No. 110, stepped up her game in the second, putting more pressure on the American’s serve.
The two exchanged breaks in the fourth and fifth games to put the set on serve and at 5-4 and on McHale’s serve, Tsurenko played very aggressively to earn five break and set point chances, forcing the American into errors. McHale continued to fight back but on Tsurenko’s sixth set point chance, she converted the break when McHale committed one of her six double faults to win 6-4 and force a third set.
"I wasn’t so much angry at myself I didn’t want to let my team down so I tried to regroup as best I could," McHale said of losing the second set. "(Then) I was happy with the way I started in the third."
She maintained her focus and regrouped to bounce back strongly in the third, breaking in the open game to take the early lead and gave herself a 3-0 lead with another break as she used a few powerful forehand shots to force Tsurenko into errors. Despite giving the Ukrainian another break on a double fault, closed out the set strong with a break at love in what turned into the final game on a backhand passing shot down the line.
"I was just really happy to pull that match out and get the win," McHale said. "There were shifts. Times she was playing well; I was playing not so well, I was playing better. Overall I am just really pleased to get the win. It was pretty close going back in the third (set). I managed to hold my serve for 5-3 and then I played a good game I think to close it out."
She was also the one who made fewer mistakes with Tsurenko’s aggressiveness totaling 69 unforced errors to just eight winners to 48 and 15, respectively, for the American, who was able to convert on seven of her 16 break point chances to four of 13 for Tsurenko.
With a 2-0 lead, Fernandez was very pleased with both McHale and Williams’ performances, especially with how McHale did not become down on herself after losing the second set but instead bounced back and played more aggressively.
"She came out really strong in the third," Fernandez said. "(I was telling her) basically to focus on the right things, to make the right plays for herself. When she does that, she is very active with her footwork and she is much more aggressive. She was able to do that right away and finish really strong as well.
"It is a great start. (McHale and Williams) both played their games and Christina did a good job to close out the match today in the first one," she added. "And then Serena, playing her first match on the red clay, she did a good job, got some bad bounces and made the correct adjustments and really was aggressive. I am really pleased with both players today."
On Sunday, Williams plays Tsurenko in the opening match looking to clinch the tie for the U.S. and then McHale plays Svitolina followed by the doubles rubbers between Liezel Huber and Sloane Stephens of the U.S. and Nadiya and Lyudmyla Kichenok.