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Fritz, Keys, Tiafoe help U.S. beat Czech Republic in United Cup opener

Victoria Chiesa | December 29, 2022


The U.S. team is off to a perfect start at the inaugural United Cup in Sydney. On the strength of singles victories for Taylor Fritz, Madison Keys and Frances Tiafoe over the last two days, the U.S. defeated the Czech Republic 4-1 in Group C round-robin play. 

 

"[We] played some good matches. I think everybody was happy to get out there and get that first match underway,
 U.S. captain David Witt said afterwards. "We had some good-quality tennis. It was fun."

Day 1: Fritz, Keys sweep opening singles matches 

The U.S. opened a 2-0 lead in the two-day tie thanks to singles victories by Fritz and Keys on Thursday. Fritz opened with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Jiri Lehecka before Keys followed with a near-identical 6-4, 6-3 win over Marie Bouzkova. 

 

Fritz needed 75 minutes to defeat the 21-year-old Lehecka, who reached the final of the Next Gen ATP Finals last fall, in their first-ever meeting. He never lost serve in victory, and saved both break points he faced in the second set. 

 

“In a team event, first match of the year, there are always some nerves coming out, so it is great to come out and get the team ahead,” Fritz said. ”When I was down, I felt that I was coming up with big serves when I needed the free points. I don’t think from the ground I maybe played my best, but when I was down break point or 0-30, I was coming up with big serves.”

Next up, Keys came from a break down in both sets to beat Bouzkova and improve her head-to-head record against the 2014 US Open junior champion to 2-0.

 

"It's always really important to try to get a break back right away," Keys said. "You don't want to feel like you're behind in a set, so I was really happy to be able to get the break back in both sets and then stay out in front, and serve pretty well to close out both sets."

 

Day 2: Tiafoe clinches victory for U.S. after Machac injury

It wasn't the way he would've wanted it, but Tiafoe nonetheless clinched the U.S.'s overall victory on Day 2 when Tomas Machac was forced to retire after suffering an ankle injury.

 

Tiafoe won the first set, 6-3, but was trailing 4-2 in the second set when Machac, a 22-year-old ranked No. 97, rolled his right ankle at deuce. 

 

"Machac was playing very well, especially in the second set. He picked up his level a lot ... We were in the midst of a battle," Tiafoe said after the match. "You don't want to see that, especially in the first week. He probably put in a great offseason, so I hope he's able to get back right, and hopefully, be all good for the Australian Open." 

In Friday's opening singles match, Petra Kvitova defeated Jessica Pegula in a match-up of the top-ranked women for each country, 7-6(6), 6-4. The opening set, which lasted 80 minutes, was particularly thrilling: The two players had 14 set points combined before it ended. 

 

Pegula saved six set points in the 10th game and then broke Kvitova straight away to earn a chance to serve out the set. Kvitova, in turn, saved four set points from 6-5, 40-0 down, and broke Pegula for the first time to force a tiebreak. From 5-1 down there, Kvitova saved three more set points before earning her seventh, which she coverted. 

 

But Pegula didn't come away from Friday's action without a win. The Americans sealed the 4-1 tie thanks to her and Fritz, who beat Bouzkova and Lehecka in a match tiebreak in mixed doubles, 2-6, 6-3, [10-7].

"[Singles] technically wasn't the first loss of 2023 yet. That was the positive side I was looking on," Pegula joked with reporters afterwards. "Petra played really well. It was a really crazy first set. Kind of a typical match with her. I feel like always she can really step into the court, hit lots of winners, hit a big ball. I thought she served really well all day today.

 

"I thought it was a high-level match for a solid two hours. Got kind of physical there I feel like towards the end. Yeah, I thought it was a good level. It's not always easy playing someone like her first match of the season. I thought I did a lot of things really well, but lots of room to improve. It was a tough match, but glad I got to turn it around in mixed after that."

 

The U.S. will face Germany in its next two-day group stage tie on Jan. 2-3.

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