Sloane Stephens

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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.

Stephens provides boost for US in Fed Cup final at Belarus

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MINSK, Belarus — Sloane Stephens is back on the United States team for the Fed Cup final, and Victoria Azarenka is missing for Belarus.

That alone gives the early advantage to the Americans.

Stephens, who won the U.S. Open this year for her first major title, missed the opening two rounds of the international team competition because of a foot injury. But she is back and will be playing alongside CoCo Vandeweghe, Shelby Rogers and Alison Riske in the best-of-five series this weekend in Minsk.

“I’m happy to be back playing and happy the team made the finals,” the 13th-ranked Stephens said Wednesday. “It’s awesome I can be on this team.”

The United States is looking to win the Fed Cup for the first time in 17 years, while Belarus is playing in the final for the first time.

Stephens hasn’t played in the Fed Cup since the 2016 quarterfinals, but she said it’s been “no problem at all” slipping back onto the squad.

“Obviously, I’ve known these girls since I was 12-13 years old, so we’re all really good friends,” Stephens said. “It’s easy to be with girls you like, girls you have fun with and girls you’ve been around for a really long time.”

Stephens didn’t play from the 2016 Olympics through Wimbledon in 2017 and underwent foot surgery during that period. She arrived in Minsk after not winning any of the four matches she’s played since her surprise U.S. Open victory. She retired with a knee injury from her last match against Barbora Strycova in China last week.

Vandeweghe, in her first week at a career-high No. 10 ranking, won two Fed Cup singles points against Germany in the quarterfinals, and two singles and the doubles points against the Czech Republic in the semifinals.

But the U.S. Open semifinalist said she knows very little about this weekend’s competition, having never played Aryna Sabalenka, Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Vera Lapko or Lidziya Marozava.

“I feel like I’m coming in with wool over my eyes a little bit,” Vandeweghe said.

Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, is not playing in the final because of an ongoing custody dispute with the father of her infant son.

If U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi wins the title, she would be the first female to do so since Billie Jean King led the Americans to the last of their record 17 titles in 2000.

“It would be a great honor to be named as another female (champion) captain alongside Billie Jean,” said Rinaldi, who is in her first year as captain. “I spoke to Billie Jean before I came over. She had some very inspiring words for me.”

Stephens, Kerber headline WTA Elite Trophy field

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ZHUHAI, China — A year after finishing the season as the No. 1-ranked player in the world, Angelique Kerber will be playing at the WTA Elite Trophy with an eye on 2018.

Kerber won the Australian Open and U.S. Open last year, but has struggled in 2017 and has dropped to No. 19.

“I’m not trying to look back at the year. I’m trying to look ahead and trying to end the year as well as I can by putting everything on the court, winning as many as matches as I can and going to my holidays with a good feeling,” Kerber said. “It’s a tough tournament but it’s an opportunity to get better, have good competition and maybe also going with a good feeling to next season.”

The WTA Elite Trophy is a round-robin tournament for the top players who failed to qualify for the WTA Finals. The tournament splits 12 players in four groups of three, with the group winners reaching the semifinals.

Kerber is in a group with Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Ashleigh Barty.

Other players at the tournament include U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, who is in a group with Anastasija Sevastova and Barbora Strycova.

“I just want to compete well because obviously every match is really important,” Stephens said. “I just hope to play well and get in a few matches out there.”

In the other groups, it’s: CoCo Vandeweghe, Peng Shuai and Elena Vesnina; and Julia Goerges, Kristina Mladenovic and Magdalena Rybarikova.

The 12 players at the tournament won a combined 11 WTA singles titles in 2017.