Stephens levels Swiss tie after
Fed Cup Day 1
Arthur Kapetanakis | April 20, 2019
SAN ANTONIO – Sloane Stephens made sure the U.S. ended Day 1 on level terms, defeating Switzerland's Timea Bacsinszky, 6-4, 6-3, to knot the Fed Cup World Group playoff tie at 1-all.
After an off day from Madison Keys allowed Viktorija Golubic to put the Swiss on the board first, the world No. 8 grinded out a win in a crucial second rubber to prevent a dangerous 2-0 deficit for Team USA.
As is so often the case in Fed Cup, the match was much closer than the gap in the WTA rankings suggested. Bacsinszky, ranked No. 111, stepped up in her country’s colors to make matters difficult for Stephens, who was ranked a career-high No. 3 less than two months ago.
Like Keys in the opener, Stephens fell behind, 3-1, to start the match. But she reeled off eight of the next nine points for 3-all, before inching ahead with a break in a 10-point seventh game. ADVERTISEMENT Two more service holds, both to 15, secured a set for the U.S. for the first time in the tie.
“When you play a player like that, you can’t leave too many openings,” Stephens said. “When I got down a little bit, I was able to regroup.”
Set two was another see-saw battle, with Bacsinszky again starting strong. She dropped just three points in the first two games for a 2-0 advantage, before Stephens snapped back with two quick games of her own.
As set two wore on, it became a battle of wills, with three consecutive deuce games in the heart of the set.
“Just keep fighting,” Stephens said of her mindset during the crucial stretch. “We’re playing for our country. You have to dig, find the energy, muster it up, fight as much as you can to make sure you get those games.”
First, Stephens broke in a 12-point game, making it 3-2 on her third break-point opportunity of the game. The Swiss then fought through deuce to break back for 3-all, setting up the pivotal game of the match.
On the return, Stephens erased four Bacsinszky game points to seize control by winning a titanic, 14-point struggle, much to the delight of the San Antonio crowd.
“You have this thing in the U.S.,” said the Swiss. “I really feel the players, when they play on home soil, it’s really tough to play against them.”
A straightforward hold brought the U.S. within one game of equalizing, and Stephens sealed the deal with her seventh break of the match. An unsuccessful Swiss challenge confirmed that Bacsinszky’s backhand was wide, prompting Red, White and Blue celebrations inside the Freeman Coliseum.
This best-of-five tie is now a one-day, best-of-three affair. As Swiss captain Heinz Günthardt hoped on Friday, the versatility of his Swiss players has turned what is, on paper, a one-sided matchup into a contest on a knife edge.
"They're crafty players, as you can see," said U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi. "They have a lot of slice. They're throwing a lot of different shots at you. We knew that coming into this tie. This week we worked on a lot of slice, picking up slice, drop shots, all kinds of things.
"I think Sloane handled it beautifully today. Tomorrow we're going to come out and look to do the same thing."
On Day 2, Stephens and Golubic will lead the slate in a battle of No. 1s.
“I expect some long rallies in the first one, that’s for sure,” predicted Günthardt. “Both move very well. Both are players that have some variety. Viki is maybe the one that varies the backhand a lot more. But then Sloane has a bit more power off the forehand.”
That match will be followed by Keys vs. Bacsinszky and, if necessary, a decisive fifth doubles rubber. That doubles match, as it stands, will see Sonya Kenin and Jessica Pegula face off against Fed Cup debutants Conny Perrin and Ylena In-Albon.
Captains can make substitutions for any and all of Sunday’s matches on the day. While changes to the singles lineup are unlikely, it would be no surprise to see any of the singles players hit the court for a third time, for doubles action, in the event of a live fifth match.
Sunday’s play will begin at 2 p.m. local time (3 p.m. ET), with live coverage on Tennis Channel.