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Venus Williams helps US clinch Fed Cup win over Netherlands

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) Venus Williams helped the United States advance in the Fed Cup before assisting in her sister’s return to competitive tennis.

Williams defeated Richel Hogenkamp 7-5, 6-1 to give the U.S. a decisive 3-0 lead in its best-of-five matchup with the Netherlands. The U.S. advanced to a World Group semifinal April 21-22 at France, which defeated Belgium 3-2 this weekend.

“Honestly, I feel like we were all a team out here, us playing and everyone in the stands,” Williams said in her post-match interview in front of the sellout crowd of over 5,000 at U.S. Cellular Center. “It was all of us together, and it felt awesome.”

Williams will play doubles later Sunday alongside her sister, Serena Williams, who will be returning to tennis after spending a year away from the game to become a mother.

Serena Williams gave birth to her daughter Sept. 1 and hasn’t played competitive tennis since winning the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant for her 23rd career Grand Slam singles title, one off Margaret Court’s record.

After Venus Williams’ singles victory Sunday, U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi said the Williams sisters would be playing doubles together. The schedule originally called for Serena Williams to play alongside Lauren Davis.

Sunday’s scheduled singles match between CoCo Vandeweghe and Arantxa Rus was scrapped because the outcome of this best-of-five event already has been decided, but the doubles match will go on as scheduled.

Before the doubles match started, the U.S. team celebrated its triumph over the Netherlands. Davis carried an American flag while joining the Williams sisters and Vandeweghe on a victory lap around the court.

The U.S. had taken a 2-0 lead Saturday when Venus Williams defeated Rus 6-4, 6-1 and Vandeweghe rallied from a set and a break down to beat Hogenkamp 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3.

“Honestly, I’d like to think CoCo wore her out some,” Venus Williams said after her own victory over Hogenkamp.

Venus Williams’ victory over Hogenkamp improved her Fed Cup singles record to 21-2 with 11 straight victories. Her only Fed Cup singles losses came in 1999 to Russia’s Elena Dementieva and in 2005 to Russia’s Anastasia Myskina.

Hogenkamp had a break-point opportunity that would have put her ahead 6-5 in the first set before Williams won the final seven points of the set. Williams took the last five games of the match to wrap up the victory.

“You’re under pressure a lot,” Hogenkamp said. “Every time you hit a second serve, you see someone at the other side standing one or two meters inside the baseline. She’s giving a lot of pressure to me when I’m serving, overall putting pressure on you. I think that’s one of her strengths. For me it’s tough, when I’m not feeling the match really well, to handle that.”

In other Fed Cup action this weekend, the Czech Republic beat Switzerland 3-1 and Germany beat Belarus 3-2. Germany will host the Czech Republic in the other semifinal.

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U.S., Belarus level at 1-1 after opening day of Fed Cup final

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MINSK, Belarus — U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens lost in three sets to Aryna Sabalenka as host Belarus and the United States ended the opening day of the Fed Cup final evenly poised at 1-1.

Sabalenka beat Stephens 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 Saturday after CoCo Vandeweghe earlier defeated Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-4, 6-4 to give 17-time champion United States a 1-0 lead.

The Americans are looking to break a 17-year championship drought, while Belarus is playing in its first Fed Cup final.

Sabalenka’s carefree and often careless tennis resulted in 31 winners and 57 unforced errors. She won on a fourth match point when Stephens netted a forehand.

A wild third set saw six straight breaks of serve before Sabalenka held in the seventh game.

“(It’s) a good experience for me because I’ve never felt these emotions, playing at home and the score is 0-1,” Sabalenka said.

Stephens has yet to win any of the five matches she’s played since winning the U.S. Open.

“We’re playing Fed Cup so anything goes,” Stephens said. “I want to play like that. That was insane. Playing for her country, the crowd behind her, she played great.”

Vandeweghe also faced a boisterous crowd at the indoor hard court in Minsk as she played Sasnovich for the first time.

“I think that’s part of having the home court advantage and I would expect the same in the U.S.,” Vandeweghe said.

Vandeweghe broke in the opening games of both sets at Chizhovka Arena, and didn’t face a break point on her serve in the opener.

In the second set, Vandeweghe lost serve in the second and eighth games, but broke serve on three of four offerings to secure the match.

Vandeweghe holds a perfect record in Fed Cup action this year, winning five singles and one doubles match including her defeat of Sasnovich.

“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 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.”

The Americans won a record 17th Fed Cup title in 2000, with Billie Jean King as captain. Since then, they have played and lost in three finals – 2003, 2009 and 2010.

U.S. Tennis apologizes for Nazi-era Germany anthem at Fed Cup match

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KAANAPALI, Hawaii (AP) — The United States Tennis Association has apologized after an outdated version of the German national anthem that later became associated with the Nazi regime was performed before a Fed Cup match in Hawaii.

The anthem was sung Saturday before a Fed Cup quarterfinal between the United States and Germany. It contained a verse that translates to “Germany, Germany, above all, above all in the world,” which became identified with Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

Andrea Petkovic, who was born in Bosnia, said after her match that she considered walking off the court as the anthem was sung.

She said: “I thought it was the epitome of ignorance, and I’ve never felt more disrespected in my whole life, let alone in Fed Cup, and I’ve played Fed Cup for 13 years now and it is the worst thing that has ever happened to me.”

The USTA issued a statement apologizing for the mistake, saying: “In no way did we mean any disrespect. This mistake will not occur again, and the correct anthem will be performed for the remainder of this first-round tie.”