Serena Williams clinched the tie for the U.S. over Belarus.
© Jared Gruenwald
Venus Williams and Liezel Huber won the doubles match.
© Jared Gruenwald
Christina McHale celebrates winning the fourth singles match.
© Jared Gruenwald
By Erin Bruehl, USTA.com
WORCESTER, Mass. - Between dominating performances on the court and the successful return of a great champion, the weekend could not gone better for the U.S. Fed Cup Team.
Behind two singles victories apiece from Serena Williams and Christina McHale and a doubles win from Venus Williams and Liezel Huber, the U.S. shut out Belarus 5-0 to win its World Group II tie in Worcester, Mass. and keep alive its hopes of returning to the World Group in 2013.
"You can't complain when you win all five matches," said U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez. "Everybody worked really hard. They meshed well together and competed really hard. I was proud of each and every one of them."
After struggling with errors and losing a big first set lead, Serena regrouped to dominate Anastasiya Yakimova in the final two sets and win 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 to provide the clinching point in the third singles match.
Christina McHale dominated Darya Kustova in the fourth singles match 6-0, 6-1 for her second career Fed Cup victory, after earning her first on Saturday over Yakimova. And then Venus Williams took the court for her first competitive match since withdrawing from the 2011 US Open with Sjogren’s Syndrome, to team with world No. 1 doubles player Liezel Huber to defeat Yakimova and Kustova 6-1, 6-2.
The U.S. now advances to a World Group Playoff in April, with opponent to be determined via draw on February 14, with a chance to return to the World Group in 2013 with a victory. The opponent will either be another World Group II winner or a World Group loser.
"It was really big for us," Serena said of her tie-clinching victory. "I definitely wanted to get my match and win it so we could kind of be a little more relaxed. That was really important for me."
On Saturday, Serena defeated Olga Govortsova after McHale, the world No. 38, defeated Yakimova to make the score 2-0 in favor of the U.S. heading into Sunday.
It was a really great two days for McHale who dominated both her matches and thinks the confidence and level of play she displayed this weekend will only help her going forward. And she was happy she could contribute two points for the U.S. team.
"I definitely think that these two matches will help me for the future," she said. "I'm just super excited that I got my first two Fed Cup wins. It was a good weekend for the whole team."
In the first match Sunday, Yakimova, the world No. 65, was a substitute in singles on both days for world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, who was forced to withdraw from the tie due to a lower back injury.
Serena, despite missing lots of shots, was leading 4-1 in the first set and had three break point chances on Yakimova to take a commanding 5-1 lead. But the Belarusian was able to fight them all off to hold at 4-2.
And from there it was downhill in the first for the 13-time Grand Slam champion as Yakimova went on to immediately break Serena, who committed four errors in the next game. She went to the bench and threw down her racquet, smashing it, in frustration.
Serena was clearly frustrated with her errors as Yakimova won six of the last seven games of the first set, playing a solid game, with the exception of problems double faulting, and good defense to make Williams hit a lot of extra balls.
But the Serena the tennis world has come to know surfaced in the second set, as she was focused, precise with her shots and power, landed more of her first serves and cut down on the errors that plagued her in the first.
"I knew it couldn’t get worse," Serena said of her game in the first set. "I was just like, ‘Okay, it’s not going to get any worse than this, it can only get better.
"It was important to stay positive," she added of how she regrouped. "I was extremely negative out there. In the past I haven’t been like that. I think I just wanted to do so well for the team. I didn’t want Christina (McHale) having any pressure going into her match. I took all the pressure and I shouldn’t have done that. I just kind of went haywire. But I was able to win play like that. That’s pretty awesome."
Yakimova was still chasing down lots of shots in the second but was no match for Serena, who was smacking serves at 119 mph and did not face a break point in the second. The Belarusian continued to have problems with her own serve, hitting 15 double faults in the match.
She carried that level of play and intensity into the third, dominating her own service games and putting pressure on Yakimova with her power, and clinched it for the U.S. on her second match point opportunity, hitting an overhead shot that skimmed close to the court, which Yakimova was unable to return.
It set up the perfect conditions for Venus to make her return to competition for the first time in five months, as she played with the world No. 1 in doubles in a match with no pressure, and was just happy to be back on the court.
"It was great playing with Liezel because she believes she can win, she's going to go for it. It takes pressure off me," she said. "If it had been a 2-All situation, I would have felt comfortable playing with her and would have relaxed me going for my shots.
"It felt great to win the first service game," she added. "It felt great to come back from those Love-40 games, down 2-Love. It felt good to be able to move the ball. It felt good when Liezel helped me out. It was everything I expected."
Venus added she is training but not sure when she will compete again, in singles or doubles, as she is still fighting fatigue and working to find the right medications, some of which she said can take up to six months to be effective. She is not worried about her ability to hit the ball, although will need time to get match ready, as long as her body cooperates.
But for Sunday, she was enjoying being back and the team’s victory, which was a complete team effort of which U.S. Fed Cup Captain Mary Joe Fernandez was very pleased. And now the U.S. needs one more win to compete for the Fed Cup title in 2013, which is the goal.
"You don't want to be in this group any extra time. It was big to win this one," Fernandez said. "Now we have another task in front of us. We're going to do our best to win the next tie so we can be back in the World Group next year."