U.S. DEFEATS BELARUS 3-2
TO WIN 2017 FED CUP TITLE
Ashley Marshall | November 10, 2017
MINSK, Belarus – Coco Vandeweghe capped off a perfect year by leading Team USA to its first Fed Cup title in 17 years on a dramatic final day in the Belarusian capital.
Vandeweghe teamed with Shelby Rogers to defeat Belarus' Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Aryna Sabalenka, 6-3, 7-6, to give the U.S. a 3-2 overall win and a record-extending 18th Fed Cup crown.
After the U.S. and Belarus split the four singles matches – two on Saturday and another two on Sunday – the championship came down to a winner-takes-all doubles match.
The win gives first-year U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi a title in her debut at the helm and makes her the first female captain since Billie Jean King in 2000 to win the title, also the last time the cup returned to American soil.
"This is something that we're going to treasure for the rest of our lives," Rinaldi said. "These players were incredible. This was an incredible venue, incredible atmosphere. This moment was amazing."
In addition to Vandeweghe and Rogers, the U.S. team for the final also included US Open champion Sloane Stephens, Alison Riske and coach Lisa Raymond.
After Vandeweghe defeated Sasnovich and Sabalenka toppled Stephens on Day 1, the stage was perfectly set for a dramatic conclusion.
In front of a rowdy capacity crowd inside Chizhovka Arena on Day 2, Vandeweghe gave the U.S. a 2-1 lead with a 7-5, 6-1 win over Belarus No. 1 Sabalenka, before Sasnovich rallied from a set down to upset Stephens, 4-6, 6-1, 8-6.
Combined with singles wins on each of the two days, Vandeweghe becomes the only American player in Fed Cup history to win three points in one tie twice in the same year.
In April, she won both singles and the decisive doubles to lead the U.S. past the Czech Republic in Tampa, Fla. And in February, she won her two singles matches against Germany in the quarterfinal in Maui, Hawaii. In dong so, Vandeweghe became the first player, from any nation, to ever win eight points since the current eight-team format was introduced in 2005. Prior to that, Anastasia Myskina won eight points for Russia in 2004, when there were four rounds of matches instead of three.
"Well, it's not just me out here," Vandeweghe said afterward. "I really want to thank my teammates for pushing me along. I mean, from Bethanie [Mattek-Sands], to Lauren Davis, everyone that's here right now behind this table. It was really a team effort. It really shows in Fed Cup. I might have had wins along the way, but Ali [Riske] won a lot of matches in Hawaii the first round."
Vandeweghe also became the first player since Petra Kvitova in 2011 to win the maximum six singles matches in one year, and just the ninth player to achieve the feat since the introduction of the World Group in 1995.
No American has won more than five points in a single year in the history of the World Group. Raymond won five as the U.S. advanced to the final in 2003; Venus Williams accomplished the feat in two ties against Russia and Italy in the 1999 championship-winning year; and Lindsay Davenport won five between the semifinal against Japan and the final versus Spain in 1996.
With the outcome of the championship match hanging in the balance, both teams made changes to its nominated doubles lineup. Sasnovich and Sabalenka teamed up for Belarus, while Vandeweghe came in to replace Riske and partner Rogers.
After six consecutive holds, the team of Vandeweghe and Rogers broke the Belarusian's twice in a row at 3-3 and against at 3-5 to snatch the early advantage.
In the second set, the Belarusian duo broke twice to lead 5-2, but they were unable to close out the set, dropping serve twice themselves and squandering two set points while trying to force a decider.
Two more breaks of serve at 5-5 sent the set to a tiebreak. Rogers lured Sabalenka into playing a low, dipping volley which gave the U.S. a 3-2 lead and Rogers then cut across the court to poach a point for 4-2. Two points later, Vandeweghe's unreturned serve made it 5-3, and Sabalenka netted Vandeweghe's next serve to bring up three championship points.
Vandeweghe and Rogers only needed one.
On match point, Vandeweghe returned Sasnovich's serve toward Sabalenka who volleyed low at Rogers' feet. Rogers redirected the ball cross court on the half volley, but Sasnovich's return found the middle of the net, setting off scenes of jubilation. Rogers threw her racquet into the air and Vandeweghe dropped to her back behind the baseline as their teammates jumped onto the court.
"I was so happy to be able to get a chance to compete for my country with these girls and do my part," Rogers said. "I tried my butt off. I wouldn't want to share that moment with anybody else. Coco is amazing. The team is amazing. I love these girls. I will never, ever, ever forget this moment."
Day 2 Singles Recap
In the first match on Sunday, Vandeweghe saved a set point against Sabalenka at 4-5 and then won five consecutive points – and five of the last seven – in the tiebreak that followed to overturn a 4-1 deficit to claim the opener.
Vandeweghe's resiliency in taking the first set proved to be more than just a body blow to Sabalenka, with the impact of the advantage carrying over throughout the second.
Sabalenka appeared noticably flatter after Vandeweghe sucked the air out of the sold-out Chizhovka Arena. She dropped her first two service games and quickly fell behind 5-0 as a sense of inevitability rolled throughout the red-and-green crowd. The Belarusian held to love to finally get on the board, but Vandeweghe wrapped up her seventh Fed Cup point of 2017 when a second serve out wide to the Sabalenka backhand set up an easy backhand winner.
In the second match of Day 2, Sasnovic snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in a must-win match in which Stephens failed to serve out the match at 5-3 in the third set and lost her final three service games.
The ebb and flow of the match was dramatic, compounded by what was at stake.
Stephens saved four break points in the eighth game of the match to go ahead 5-3 and she wrapped up the opening set on her first set point to put the U.S. one set away from a championship.
But Sasnovich held strong, and where Sabalenka had earlier faltered, Sasnovich maintained her composure. She played some of her best tennis of her Fed Cup career, remaining steady from the baseline, confident coming to the net and and self-assured enough to mix in plenty of deft drop shots. She broke Stephens in her first two service games of the second set in running away to a 5-0 lead, and then held to love after Stephens had got on the board to send the match to a deciding set.
In a game of similar counter-punching styles, Stephens drew first blood by consolidating a break to lead 5-2. Sasnovich held to make Stephens try to serve it out, but four errors, three from the forehand wing, gave Belarus hope.
An inch-perfect Sasnovich lob helped level things at 5-5 before three consecutive breaks advanced the match to 7-6 and put the tie on the Minsk native's racquet. On match point, Sasnovich found the Stephens forehand with a deep, flat backhand to force the deciding doubles match.
"I knew we were in for a tough match," Rinaldi said. "I've watched [the Belarus] players over the last several years and been following their success. I know how talented they are. They're in the finals. They beat some very good teams to get here. They have great chemistry.
"We came in knowing that. We came in not underestimating our opponent, but coming in trying to be prepared. It's a tough time of year, the end of the year. Our players did an amazing job putting their hearts out on the line today."