Kenin Cruises, Serena Digs Deep
USA Leads 2-0 Over Latvia
Victoria Chiesa | February 7, 2020
EVERETT, Wash. -- A pair of contrasting victories for Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and Serena Williams secured Team USA a 2-0 lead over Latvia at the close of the first night of play in the 2020 Fed Cup by BNP Paribas Qualifier at Angel of the Winds Arena.
It took all of 68 minutes for Kenin to get the U.S. off and running in the opening rubber, as she extended her mastery of Anastasija Sevastova with a 6-2, 6-2 victory, before Williams dug deep to secure a 7-6, 7-6 victory over Jelena Ostapenko in the second match.
With the victories, both Americans kept unblemished marks in tact as they seek to clinch the tie, and a spot in April's Fed Cup Finals in Budapest on Saturday. Kenin improved her head-to-head against 2018 US Open semifinalist Sevastova to 3-0, while Williams extended her career record in Fed Cup singles matches to 14-0.ADVERTISEMENT
"I have so much confidence in these girls. I have so much respect and admiration for Serena and Sonya," U.S captain Kathy Rinaldi told reporters after the night's play. "Sonya coming back after the Australian Open, keeping her commitment, coming here and playing, it's just great for American tennis.
"To have Serena, such a strong leader, someone who has done so much for our sport, so much for women in sports. [She] really stepped up today when she needed to. She's the G.O.A.T. [greatest of all time], no doubt about it. She proved that tonight again."
The 21-year-old Kenin spent much of the opening match out-foxing the crafty Latvian veteran around the court, routinely eliciting roars from the sellout crowd by winning lengthy rallies where both players showcased their variety.
"I knew she's going to slice. I knew she's going to dropshot, mix up the pace, not give me rhythm. I think I did a good job practicing that. It wasn't easy. I didn't like practicing it," Kenin said after the match. "When I started the match, I already knew what she was going to do. I followed up with things that I wanted to do.
"The crowd really helped me. I feel like I played really well. The Fed Cup is so different. They're just cheering for me, they're supporting me. They got really excited after every point. They really helped me and I used it to my advantage."
It wasn't all smooth sailing for the world No. 7 and U.S. No. 1, however: she serve from a 40-0 deficit in the third game of the opener, and later won a marathon six-deuce game, in which she again broke from 40-15, which helped her extend her lead to 4-1.
From 1-1, Kenin won seven of the next eight games to establish firm control of the match, but shut the door emphatically when Sevastova upped her level early in the second set. The Latvian No.2 held serve from 0-40 in the third game, and had a 0-30 window on Kenin's serve in the next game
"She was obviously playing well. She came up with some good shots. I didn't like the fact I lost the game at 40-Love. I had it. I felt like things could have went differently," Kenin said.
"I was able to somehow maintain my composure and just play some good points. I really needed to just find a way [following] that 2-1 game. After that, I felt like the momentum went my way."
When all was said and done, Kenin had racked up 26 winners to 19 unforced errors, and won a staggering 74 percent of her service points. But despite Kenin's strong stat line, for Sevastova, a former doubles partner and good friend of the American, the 21-year-old's confidence as she bounded around the court was what stood out.
"Tennis-wise, for sure, you're confident when you win your first Grand Slam. She's playing so solid, so deep. She has all the answers," the former world No. 11 said.
"It's tough because she has good tactics. She doesn't miss much. She serves not too fast, but she hits all the corners. It's not easy to find weaknesses. There are no weaknesses.
"I think it was the best I've seen her play in the three encounters we had. I can't say that I played worst game ever. She played exactly the right way against me."
In the nightcap, Williams was given all she could handle over the course of one hour and 46 minutes by former French Open champion Ostapenko, who boasts a career-high ranking of world No. 5.
The big-hitting Latvian bounced back from a 4-2 deficit to take the opening set to a tiebreak, after twice serving with pressure to stay in the set, and later broke Williams when the American served for the win at 6-5 in the second set. Ostapenko was two points away from extending the match to a decider in the second set, as she pushed Williams well past deuce in a crucial 10th game, before the 23-time major champion held on and later sealed victory.
"I was just thinking, 'It's a tiebreaker, I got to win this or go to a third.' I definitely played good in the tiebreaker," Williams said.
"I could definitely do better, but my opponent played well. She was hitting really hard, hitting a lot of winners. She was serving really well. It was definitely hard to get a good rhythm out there.
"I just want to be able to go out there and do well. You're playing for your country, it's not just for you. I also feel like it's just a different atmosphere because you have your coach next to you. You don't want to let her down. She's encouraging you. Then you have your teammates, you can't let them down either.
"It was a really great crowd. We were talking about it in the locker room. It was so loud...It's so good to see, especially for Fed Cup, have the women bring out such amazing crowds like that. It was just really cool."
Team USA needs to secure just one victory on Saturday to advance to the Finals in Budapest. Kenin is slated to play Ostapenko in the first of the reverse singles matches, with Williams and Sevastova's match to follow. Should the Latvians flip the script and win both singles, a decisive fifth doubles rubber, for which Rinaldi nominated Alison Riske and Bethanie Mattek-Sands during Thursday's draw ceremony, will be played.