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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.”

Tennis opens up bidding for hosts of Davis, Fed Cup finals

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LONDON — Cities will bid to stage the finals of the Davis and Fed Cups as part of a revamp of the international team tennis competitions.

The International Tennis Federation will launch a bidding process in December, although the governing body is yet to determine whether the same city will host the men’s and women’s competitions.

Currently one of the finalists, based on the draw, decides the venue. Croatia is now looking for a suitable location for its men to host Argentina in the Davis Cup final in November.

“By having a full year or two to plan we can do more for sponsors and fans with a stadium that’s an appropriate size,” ITF President David Haggerty said the organization’s London headquarters.

Working on the ITF project are consultants from the CSM sports marketing company chaired by Sebastian Coe, president of track and field’s governing body, the IAAF.

The ITF will assess whether to select a host city from an emerging market which can potentially offer higher financial returns or one of the traditional tennis heartlands where the crowds could be larger and more boisterous.

“It’s a balancing act, making sure we get bids from a number of different cities so we can make comparisons,” Haggerty told The Associated Press. “But it’s not all about money. It’s about eyeballs and awareness. Our mission really is to develop, grow and promote tennis around the world. So we will take great caution.”

Haggerty envisages the winning bid staging the finals for two to three years. The challenge in potentially using the same venue for both competition finals at the same time is finding somewhere with enough arenas, practice courts and locker rooms.

European soccer’s Champions League final and the Super Bowl, the showpiece of the NFL season, are being examined as major events that are held at neutral venues.

The proposed Davis and Fed Cup changes must be approved by the ITF’s annual general meeting in August. The ITF anticipates a decision on successful bidding cities next year.

The ITF is also examining whether to condense the finals from three to two days and if best-of-three sets would work better for the Davis Cup rather than the current best-of-five. The Fed Cup world group could also double to 16 teams to match the men’s competition.