By Nathalie Narcisse
(April 21, 2013) DELRAY BEACH, Florida – On a day where tennis legend Chris Evert was lauded for Federation Cup accomplishments, it was fitting that dynamic duo, Serena and Venus Williams carried their matches to prevent the U.S. from slipping out of the world group.
In the first match at the Delray Beach Tennis Center, Serena crushed Sweden’s Sofia Arvidsson 6-2, 6-1 while Venus hung tough against Johanna Larsson 6-3,7-5 to permit the Americans to compete for the Federation Cup title in 2014.
After Serena’s victory Saturday evening placed the U.S. on even terms with Sweden, captain Mary Joe Fernandez was hoping to maintain the momentum. The world number one did not disappoint.
In the early stages of the opening set, the sun seemed to be Serena’s biggest nemesis. She fought off three break points before finally putting a period on a long third game.
Subsequently, Serena manufactured triple break point and capitalized for 3-1. Then, with an ace, the world number one consolidated for 4-1. Serena went on to break Arvidsson a second time to bed the initial set.
Serena captured seven consecutive games before Arvidsson ultimately held in the sixth game of the second set to avoid posting a bagel. However, it was only a temporary reprieve. Soon, with her tenth ace, Serena arrived at triple match point. The world number one finished the proceedings with an unreturnable serve.
Overall a good performance by Serena considering the match lasted only 57 minutes, with 35 winners and 22 unforced errors. The third game in the first set was critical. Serena stated “if she had won that game, it would have been a tougher score or a different match. It was important for me to stay focused and fight for every point”.
While Serena does not use on court coaching with her WTA matches, she appreciates the support when it comes to team competition “it feels good, it’s different when you do call your coach on court. . .I take everything in, I just try to be like a sponge and listen”.
Since the sun was bothersome for both players, Arvidsson emphasized it was not a factor in her defeat “[Serena] was just too good. She showed why she’s number one”.
Serena was glad to see big sister in the position to seal the tie for the U.S. “Venus is a veteran and a great player. I hope she does really well”.
According to Fernandez, Venus was a “last minute decision . . after the warm-up today”, the gamble paid off.
Subsequent to a double fault to donate the opening game to Larsson, Venus regained her footing by promptly breaking herself. Later on, the American struck a forehand down the line winner up triple break point to capture he third successive game for 3-1. Despite being challenged, Venus consolidated for 4-1 and maintained the one break edge to finish off the first set.
Larsson warded off 0-40 to ultimately guard serve for 3-2 in the second set. Yet, with Larsson’s forehand pass landing long, Venus had her fifth break chance of the set. She converted when the Swede flubbed a backhand.
Soon with a hold at love, Venus raced to a 5-3 lead. However, with a love game of her own, the Swede forced Venus to serve out the match.
With a third double fault in the tenth game at 0-40, Venus opened the door for Larsson as the second set was now at 5 all.
Still, the American plugged away to regain the advantage. Serving for the tie the second time around, Venus went to nine deuces, had four double faults, salvaged three break points before striking gold on her eighth match point.
This was the maiden meeting between Venus and Larsson. The Swede was not surprised by the substitution “Sofia played a really good match yesterday. . .I was prepared mentally to play Venus. . .I was struggling the whole match to find a good rhythm. . I really tried to keep fighting”.
Despite the outcome, the Swedish coach felt “it’s the best experience you can ever have. [Johanna and Sofia] can keep [their] head up and be very proud. . .go back home with a lot of experience to use the rest of the year”.
After seeing a myriad of match points evaporate, Venus expressed “I was trying to stay focused. . .the game was very competitive, we were both going for the lines and missing them closely”.
Venus had not played Fed Cup singles since 2007. Ironically, the last time was also in South Florida. Moreover, Venus had never previously clinched the tie for her nation. The American cited “it’s a different kind of pressure being on a team, you just want to do more. I wanted to be out there”.
Venus felt a sense of relief wrapping thing up in straight sets “I needed it to be over in two. Mary Joe needed it to be over in two. She was having a heart attack on the sidelines”.
Now, the Americans will wait until next season to work together again in this format. Fernandez acknowledged “that’s the hardest thing about Fed Cup, the scheduling and how long it takes between the ties. You start building a chemistry with the team, a lot of bonding and you push each other. It’s fun. . .we’re still going to be watching each other, supporting each other. . .and we’ll regroup February of next year”.
With so many niggling physical issues, Fernandez withdrew her team from the doubles match. So, USA win over Sweden by a mark of 3-2.