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Ashley Marshall  |  February 11, 2018

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Venus Williams sent Team USA into the semifinals of the Fed Cup, and sister Serena returned to play her first competitive match in 13 months, as the U.S. defeated The Netherlands 3-1 on Day 2 at the U.S. Cellular Center.


Venus, the top-ranked American, defeated Dutch No. 1 Richel Hogenkamp, 7-5, 6-1, to give the U.S. an unassailable 3-0 lead in the best-of-five tie.


The U.S. now advances to April’s semifinals against France, which defeated Belgium, 3-2, earlier in the day. The tie will be played in France at a venue to be determined later.


"We started off with a win this weekend. We're on our way," U.S. Captain Kathy Rinaldi said. "We'll play France next. We just take one match at a time. We're very excited and blessed to be in this opportunity, to have this opportunity.


"We had a lot of fun. ADVERTISEMENT We worked hard. We came out with the win. That was the goal."


The fourth singles match between Coco Vandeweghe and Arantxa Rus was not played since the U.S. had sealed the tie after the third singles match. 


The Williams sisters dropped the dead rubber, 6-2, 6-3, to Lesley Kerkhove and Demi Schuurs to wrap up the overall 3-1 victory. Venus replaced Lauren Davis, who was originally nominated for the doubles match, to partner her younger sister for the fourth time in their Fed Cup careers.


Rinaldi announced that the Williams sisters, who last played together at the 2016 London Olympics, would play doubles together during an on-court interview after Venus' singles victory.


But Dutch doubles specialist Schuurs, who won titles in Brisbane and Hobart earlier this year, and Fed Cup newcomer Kerkhove spoiled a 4-0 sweep with some fine tennis, taking advantage of the fact that Serena was understandably lacking match play and competitive points since the birth of her first child, Alexis Olympia.


The doubles win was a bright spot for the Dutch team and captain Paul Haarhuis, who earlier acknowledged just how much of an uphill task defeating the reigning champions would be.


"Obviously, we knew before we came here it was going to be a very tough match for us because the American team has so much depth and they can bring in so many good players," he said. "We knew we had to play very well.

"It's nice to win the doubles... It was credit to them that they really played outstanding. But, yeah, it's only a very small tissue for a big, gaping cut."


Earlier on Sunday, Venus wrapped up the tie in the first of three potential matches of the day, claiming her 21st career Fed Cup win. It means the U.S. improves to 8-0 in ties that have featured Venus and Serena.


"Obviously, this is an important moment, when you're playing not just for yourself but your other team members and your captain, for your country," Venus said. "It's definitely a different kind of pressure.

"I'm really happy with how the team played through tough moments, a new surface, against players we've never seen before. Those were all factors. I think we're all just looking forward to the next tie."


In the decisive contest of the day, the turning point of the opening set, and likely the match, came at 5-5, when Williams hit an inside-out forehand down the line to save a break point, which, had Hogenkamp converted, would have seen her serving for the opening set.


Instead, the momentum shifted in the American’s favor, and she reeled off seven consecutive points in breaking Hogenkamp to love and snatching the early advantage.


Considering the moment and what was at stake, it was more than a break of serve – it was a break of Hogenkamp’s will and resolve. Consequently, as close as the first set was, the second set was much less tense for the Team USA bench. 


Hogenkamp held serve in the second game of the set, but it was one-way traffic from there. Williams broke serve with a forehand volley for a 3-1 lead and then again to love for a 5-1 advantage, as she romped through the final five games to wrap up the victory.


“I think I had a lot of chances first set," Hogenkamp said. "Very quickly I was down 3-0. After I was finding myself back in the set, then I felt like I had a lot of chance in her service game. I missed them with my own unforced error. She played some good points but mostly because I was missing. That was tough. Of course, I can take some positives with me. In the end, we still lost 3-0. That’s not what we came here for.”


The doubles rubber was irrelevant, in terms of the overall outcome of the tie, but meaningful for a packed U.S. Cellular Center crowd of 5,208, which had almost sold out the tie before the U.S. team was announced.


Asheville was hosting a Fed Cup tie for the first time, and the appreciative North Carolina crowd gave the Williams sisters a warm welcome and standing ovation when they took the court.


Serena's lack of match play was evident, but it takes little away from either the shine of the overall weekend for U.S. tennis or the play of the Dutch doubles pairing.


"It felt really good to be back on the court," Serena said. "I've been training. It's just exciting to be out there. A lot of not nerves but anticipation for myself. That's good. I think that's normal.


"I think if I walk out there with low expectations, then I need to stop doing what I do. So that's never going to happen for me. I'm always going to have the best and highest expectations for myself. I'm OK with that because that's just who I am."



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