VANDEWEGHE HELPS U.S.
TO A SPLIT ON FED CUP FINAL DAY 1
Ashley Marshall | November 11, 2017
MINSK, Belarus – Coco Vandeweghe silenced the partisan Belarusian crowd before Aryna Sabalenka sent them home in a frenzy as Team USA earned a split on Day 1 of the Fed Cup final in Minsk.
World No. 10 Vandeweghe got the U.S. off to an ideal start with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over hometown favorite Aliaksandra Sasnovich, but Sabalenka kept the hosts' hopes of a first Fed Cup title firmly alive by upsetting reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens in the second match of the day, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.
It leaves the tie perfectly balanced heading into the second and final day of the 2017 competition, where Team USA will go in search of a record-extending 18th title while Belarus will look to continue its magical season with a trophy in its finals debut.
Since 1995, when the home-road format was established, the U.S. ADVERTISEMENT has a 10-7 record when splitting the first two singles matches.
"We go in, we're 1-1. We're going to learn from this, put it behind us," U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi said. "We're going to come out tomorrow, come out strong, we're going to compete hard again. That's what we're going to do, is compete hard, battle, be there for each other."
In the first match of the day, Vandeweghe's powerful baseline game proved too much for Sasnovich who, like the American, had not lost a Fed Cup match this year entering the final.
Vandeweghe secured the only break of the opening set in the very first game and the advantage held up as the California native cruised through five relatively straightforward holds.
The second set started much the same way with an early break for the American, whose fist pumps and screams increased in intensity as the set entered the middle stages and were emphasized by a roar when she held to move ahead 4-2. Sasnovich held with new balls and then fought back from 40-0 down on Vandeweghe's serve to tie the set a 4-4, but Sasnovich surrendered the advantage when she dumped a forehand into the net to gift Vandeweghe a 5-4 lead.
Serving for the match, Vandeweghe fired an unreturnable serve and an ace up the middle to get two points from victory. Another miscue on the Sasnovich forehand gifted Vandeweghe match point and the American claimed the first point of the final when Sasnovich's forehand from the middle of the baseline failed to clear the net.
"First set, you always feel a lot better when you get a break in the first game," Vandeweghe said. "From there, there was nothing really threatening me. I don't believe she had a breakpoint in that first set. Then the second set, it was a little bit disappointing. I knew she would come with fight in the second set. I was really pleased with how I played, how everything transpired from the fight she gave, to the crowd, to my own crowd that was there. I was really happy from there."
Vandeweghe hit eight aces, broke four times and recorded 20 winners on the match. By contrast, an uneven and nervous Sasnovich had just eight winners to 29 unforced errors and rarely strung together a run of three or more points.
"I think confidence is brought through the whole year. I think there's different moments that excite you in tennis," Vandeweghe said. "For me, Fed Cup is probably one of the more exciting moments I could have in my career.
"I think I just, I don't know, I don't want to use the word 'ooze' confidence, but I can't think of a better word. I just take the energy that's around me and I really use it to my advantage. It's really interesting, I played a few away ties, but this one is extra special to play an away tie."
The U.S. has never lost a Fed Cup tie when leading 2-0, so it was imperative for Sabalenka to put the hosts on the board. Buoyed by the loud, horn-carrying crowds, she played a care-free game and seemed to be executing a game plan where the match would be won or lost on her own racquet.
Sabalenka hit 36 winners to 60 errors, dictating the points and trying to finish rallies quickly from the back of court. Make or miss, the Belarusian continued to spray and pray from the baseline, and she made just enough balls to squeak over the finish line. In a nod to how close the match was, each player won 91 points.
"The way she played today, that was insane," Stephens said. "But I think playing for your country is a little bit different. The crowd behind her, the support she had, it's incredible. That's what every player plays for, right? I think she played with the whole country behind her and she played great."
Sabalenka raced out to a 3-0 lead in the first set, which she sealed on her second chance after breaking Stephens for a second time at 3-4. A lone break gave the American the second set, and in the third set, the match turned into a war of attrition to see who would hold serve first.
Six straight breaks saw the third set go to 3-3 before Sabalenka finally held. Stephens responded by holding to love before Sabalenka made it 5-4. Stephens then saved three match points serving to stay in the match, but a flat backhand down the line off the teenager's racquet was too hot to handle, as Belarus turned the final into a best-of-three shootout.
"I feel I played a good player," Stephens said. "She had a great crowd out there today. It was always going to be a tough match, no matter what. I think I could have done a few things different. But all in all, I just fought as hard as I could. I competed really well. That's all I can really ask for."
Added Rinaldi: "I want to say I'm extremely proud of Sloane today. That was a battle. That's what we're here for. It was a tremendous battle. She fought all the way to the end, saving some match points. I still thought she could have won that match."
Vandeweghe will play Sabalenka on Sunday, followed by Stephens against Sasnovich. Should it go to the doubles, Rinaldi has nominated Shelby Rogers and Alison Riske to face Vera Lapko and Lidziya Marozava. Captains can, however, change the Day 2 lineup prior to play.