VENUS TO BEGIN USA'S
FED CUP DEFENSE IN ASHEVILLE
Ashley Marshall | February 9, 2018
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Venus Williams and Coco Vandeweghe will lead the U.S. charge against The Netherlands in Asheville Saturday, with Serena Williams scheduled to partner Lauren Davis in doubles action – her first competitive match in 13 months – the following day.
Venus will start things off for the reigning champions against world No. 124 Arantxa Rus (both pictured above), and Vandeweghe will face world No. 108 and top-ranked Dutch player Richel Hogenkamp. It will be the first time either American has played their Dutch counterpart.
Then on Sunday, Venus will play Hogenkamp in a battle of each nation's top players. If necessary, Vandeweghe will square off against Dutch No. 2 Arantxa Rus. Rus won the only previous match between the pair in a qualifying match on the grass of s'Hertogenbosch in Holland in 2011.ADVERTISEMENT
The doubles match is scheduled to see the American duo play Lesley Kerkhove and Demi Schuurs. Serena is 3-1 in four Fed Cup doubles matches, while Davis is 0-1. Kerkhove and Schuurs are both undefeated in Fed Cup doubles play.
The draw was made at an on-court ceremony at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville Friday afternoon.
"I've had the opportunity to play Fed Cup many times over the years," Venus said. "It's always an honor. It's always a sense of pride you take on the court, besides playing for yourself. It's a completely different feeling, completely different to the circumstances.
"We've tried to prepare our best every time to handle that honor and that pressure."
Serena, who last played at the 2017 Australian Open, was nominated by U.S. Captain Kathy Rinaldi to play doubles with Davis. She is not expected to play singles on Sunday, although the captains are able to change the lineups if they wish. Serena gave birth to her first child, Alexis Olympia, in September and has played just one exhibition match since winning her 23rd Grand Slam women's singles title more than a year ago.
"There have been a lot of ups and downs in the practice," Serena said. "I think that's normal for everything that I've gone through. But it also gives me another view. It's almost relaxing for me because I have nothing to prove. Again, just fighting against all odds to be out there, to be competing again.
"Fed Cup is a unique thing because you get to really intimately know the players. There are dinners, so on and so forth. Olympics are pretty much the same; it's just a bigger team, both the men and women. That's fun, as well."
If either team wins the tie 3-1, with the fourth singles match being the decisive rubber, the doubles match will not take place.
Dutch captain Paul Haarhuis said the fact that Serena was not playing singles does not change his team's approach.
"I wasn't surprised," Haarhuis said of the American lineup. "Nothing changed because they have a phenomenal team. If they leave out the first four, bring in four new ones. We're still not favored. It didn't change anything. We're not going to change our practice. We're not going to change our mind."
The U.S. holds a 6-2 head-to-head record over the Netherlands in Fed Cup play. The U.S. last faced the Netherlands in the 1998 World Group First Round in Kiawah Island, S.C., sweeping the tie, 5-0.
The Americans’ only losses to the Dutch came in 1968 and 1997. The U.S. was drawn to play away in the Netherlands for the 2018 World Group First Round when the draw took place in September 2017, but the USTA chose to exercise its right under new Fed Cup regulations to host the first-round tie.
Under regulations that came into effect from the International Tennis Federation in August, the finalist nations in the 2017 Fed Cup Final (the U.S. and Belarus) were given the option of hosting their 2018 first-round ties.
Hogenkamp said the Dutch team is excited about playing the role of spoiler this weekend in North Carolina.
"I think from the moment we started with this team a few years ago, I think we've always been the underdog," she said. "We had just great weeks of practice every week. We are ready for the weekend. They have a great team with some Grand Slam champions, with a lot of good players.
"We've been practicing hard this week. I think the underdog fits us very well. We will see how it goes this weekend. We're going to give 100 percent, like we always do. I think that's all we do."