By Nathalie Narcisse
(April 20, 2013) DELRAY BEACH. Florida – After a three-hour setback due to showers at the Delray Beach Tennis Center, Serena Williams sauntered on court to face Swede Johanna Larsson. The world No. 1 dusted off her opponent 6-2, 6-2 to knot the tie between the two nations.
This was the first meeting between these two players. With Sofia Arvidsson vanquishing Sloane Stephens in the opening rubber, it was Williams’ job to prevent the U.S. team from going into a 2-0 hole.
Although, this was Williams’ seventh tie compared to Larsson’s thirty third, the difference though was that Williams was undefeated in Fed Cup play 11-0 and not to mention double digit majors titles.
Subsequent to Larsson’s double fault, Williams had double break point. With a crosscourt backhand winner, the American converted and swiftly consolidated for 3-0.
Despite a grueling game, Larsson guarded serve to stay one break behind at 3-1. Quickly, Williams coasted on serve to arrive at 5-2.
By provoking miscues from Larsson, Williams had double set point. With a backhand down the line winner, Williams bedded the first set.
The second set was not a cakewalk for Williams. In the opening game, the American’s mistakes on serve found her staring at 15-40. As usual, Williams selected the right serves to bail herself out of trouble. Her second time serving, Williams fended off another break point to keep her nose in front, 2-1.
While Larsson competed better, the unforced errors by Williams also began to mount. But, in the fourth game, two double faults by the Swede helped Williams to eventually get to deuce. Soon, with a forehand winner, the American had break point and later Williams pocketed the game for 3-1.
After comfortably getting to 5-2, the American captured another break to close out the match.
Considering the firepower on the American side, Swedish captain Lars-Anders Wahlgren is ecstatic with the performance of his players so far “it’s a little bit of a surprise for the Swedish team, it’s 1-1. I always believe in my girls. I was hoping for even 2-0”.
Despite the outcome, Larsson felt it was a great experience to battle a player of Williams’ caliber “it’s definitely an experience for me today. I had a lot of fun. . .I had a few chances. . When you play those players who are extremely aggressive, you really need to take your chances. . .I did my best and I was fighting the whole match”.
While for other competitors being down 0-1 in team play may cause some angst, Williams stated “I don’t feel pressure. Not this time around. . .I feel even though we didn’t win our first match, we have a really good team”.
Williams agreed that the second set was much tougher “I think she played a lot better. I think I also made more errors. She’s a really good player. She’s a professional. You can’t get on this level without being solid”.
Certainly, a different atmosphere and sensation representing yourself versus one’s country. Williams commented “I just try to fight and do the best I can. I’m here for my team. I’m here to give 100 percent”.
With Williams’ win, captain Mary Joe Fernandez was finally able to breathe “it was big for Serena to get a quick start. I thought the first match could have gone either way. Sloane had opportunities and wasn’t able to capitalize. . .conditions were tough and the rain delay sort of slowed her down because she had the momentum”.
A lot on the line tomorrow. Does Fernandez believe that Stephens will require tactical, mental support or both? Fernandez replied “every time you step on the court it’s a chance to get better and improve. When you have a few ups and down, you have to mentally get a little bit stronger. It helps when you are tactically sound and clear on what you need to do. So, I try to support and give as clear advice as I can on what I see out there and hope that works”.
The first match on Sunday afternoon will feature Williams against Arvidsson, followed by Stephens versus Larsson and will culminate with doubles play. The U.S. pair of Venus Williams and Vavara Lepchenko will collide with Larsson and Arvidsson.
Nathalie Narcisse is in Delray Beach covering the Fed Cup tie for Tennis Panorama News as media. Follow her twitter updates on @TennisNewsTPN.