Serena Williams remains perfect at Fed Cup; U.S. leads Latvia 2-0

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EVERETT, Wash. — Nearly five years passed since Serena Williams last played singles in a Fed Cup competition.

Even though she struggled for stretches on Friday night, Williams remained perfect.

Williams improved to 14-0 in Fed Cup singles matches, defeating Jelena Ostapenko in straight sets to give the United States a 2-0 lead over Latvia.

Williams outlasted Ostapenko 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3) to put the U.S. on the cusp of advancing to the Fed Cup Finals in Budapest, Hungary in April. The U.S. needs just one victory in the three scheduled matches on Saturday to advance.

“I just want to be able to go out there and do well. You’re playing for your country, it’s not just for you,” Williams said.

The U.S. was given an early advantage after Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin rolled with a dominant 6-2, 6-2 win over Anastasija Sevastova in the opening match. With a 2-0 lead, the one unknown for Saturday is whether U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi will use one of her substitutions and give Coco Gauff a chance to make her Fed Cup debut.

“Obviously I’d love to give her an experience at Fed Cup, especially her first one, but our goal is we’re one team, one goal, and that’s to win,” Rinaldi said.

Williams was outplayed for large chunks of the match by Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion. Ostapenko matched Williams’ power, served better and hit more winners.

But Williams was at her best in the tiebreakers. She trailed 2-0 in both, but rallied each time. It was her first Fed Cup match since 2018, when she played doubles with her sister, Venus, and her first singles match in the event since 2015.

“I definitely played good in the tiebreaker,” Williams said. “At least I got to the tiebreaker. I could play better.”

The first match for Williams since her loss to Wang Qiang in the third round of the Australian Open was at times much harder than what Kenin faced. Some of the trouble was self-inflicted. Williams was just 48% on first serves. She finished with just six total winners that didn’t come off her serve. But Ostapenko allowed Williams to hang around, thanks to some untimely double faults and 47 unforced errors.

Williams broke Ostapenko at 5-all in the second set, but Ostapenko immediately broke back to force another tiebreaker. The key point of the tiebreaker was Williams’ forehand winner up the line for a 5-2 lead that was followed by one of her trademark fist-pump and scream.

“I think I was rushing a little bit too much,” Ostapenko said. “During the games, I was taking my time. In the tiebreaker … I was rushing a bit too much. I didn’t take my time.”

Six days removed from winning her first Grand Slam tournament title, Kenin overwhelmed Sevastova using a pair of breaks in the first set, cruising to victory in just over an hour.

“I was obviously a little nervous coming in after Australia,” Kenin said. “I felt tired but I tried to get that out of my mind and just represent and do what I do best.”

Kenin, the highest ranked American in the world at No. 7, defeated Sevastova for the second time in a month after earning a straight-set victory last month in Brisbane.

“I used that match to help me,” Kenin said. “I studied her game really well and watched my match against her. I felt like everything was going my way.

“I came up with some really clutch shots.”

Especially in the opening set.

Kenin broke Sevastova twice in the opening set, both times coming from way behind and showing the same resolve that defined her title in Melbourne. Kenin trailed love-40 in the third game of the match, but won the next five points to take a 2-1 lead. Kenin held serve at love in the next game for a 3-1 lead

Kenin rallied from a 15-40 deficit in the next game and eventually went to deuce with Sevastova six times. On the sixth deuce, Kenin gained the advantage when her slice backhand caught the top of the net and trickled over. Kenin finally took a 4-1 lead in the set when she guessed correctly off a defensive lob. Kenin stabbed Sevastova’s overhead smash into the open court for a forehand winner.

“I felt like the momentum changed big time for me,” Kenin said.

Kenin broke Sevastova in the opening game of the second set and again to go up 4-1. She closed out the match with a forehand winner, her 26th winner of the match.

Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov give Canada 1st Davis Cup title

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MALAGA, Spain — Felix Auger-Aliassime fell to his back behind the baseline, then waited for teammates to race off Canada’s bench and pile on top of him.

A few minutes later, the Canadians finally could lift the Davis Cup.

“I think of us all here, we’ve dreamt of this moment,” Auger-Aliassime said.

Canada won the title for the first time, beating Australia behind victories from Denis Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime.

Auger-Aliassime secured the winning point when he downed Alex de Minaur 6-3, 6-4 after Shapovalov opened the day by rolling past Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-2, 6-4.

Seven years after leading Canada to the top of junior tennis, Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov and their teammates finally got to lift the biggest team trophy in their sport.

“We wanted to grow up and be part of the team and try to help the country win the first title,” Shapovalov said, “so everything is just so surreal right now.”

Shapovalov had dropped both his singles matches this week and needed treatment on his back during a three-set loss in the semifinals to Lorenzo Sonego of Italy that lasted 3 hours, 15 minutes. But the left-hander moved quickly around the court, setting up angles to put away winners while racing to a 4-0 lead in the first set.

Auger-Aliassime then finished off his superb second half of the season by completing a perfect week in Spain. He twice had kept the Canadians alive after Shapovalov dropped the opening singles match, and he replaced his weary teammate to join Vasek Pospisil for the decisive doubles point.

This time, Auger-Aliassime made sure the doubles match wouldn’t even be necessary. After his teammates poured onto the court to celebrate with him, they got up and danced around in a circle.

Canada had reached the final only once, falling to host Spain in Madrid in 2019, when Rafael Nadal beat Shapovalov for the clinching point after Auger-Aliassime had lost in the opening match.

But with Auger-Aliassime having since surged up the rankings to his current spot at No. 6, the Canadians are a much more formidable team now. They won the ATP Cup in January and finally added the Davis Cup crown to the junior Davis Cup title Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov led them to in 2015.

Australia was trying for its 29th title and first since current captain Lleyton Hewitt was part of the title-winning team in 2003.

But it was finally time for the Canadians, who were given a wild card into the field when Russia was suspended because of its invasion of Ukraine.

“Look, I think we were very close today,” de Minaur said. “Just wait until the next time we get the same matchup. Hopefully we can get the win and prove that we can do it.”

But Canada will be tough to beat as long as Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov play.

Shapovalov is just 23 and Auger-Aliassime 22, but both already have been Grand Slam semifinalists and Auger-Aliassime ended 2022 as one of the hottest players on the ATP Tour. He won all of his four titles this year, including three straight weeks in October.

He also beat Carlos Alcaraz in the previous Davis Cup stage in September, just after the Spaniard had won the U.S. Open to rise to No. 1 in the rankings. That victory helped send the Canadians into the quarterfinals, which they started this week by edging Germany.

“They’re not kids anymore, that’s for sure. Not after today – well not after the last couple of years,” said Pospisil, the team veteran at 32. “They’ve been crushing it.”

Australia beats Croatia 2-1 to reach Davis Cup final

Day Four - Davis Cup Finals 2022
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MALAGA, Spain – Australia had to fight back twice to reach its first Davis Cup final in 19 years after beating Croatia 2-1.

Lleyton Hewitt’s team recovered from losing the first singles. Then the Australian doubles pair battled back from a set down in the decider.

Australia won its 28th and last title in 2003. It has finally got back to the final.

“I am so proud. Australia has a really rich history in this competition,” said Hewitt, who played a record 43 Davis Cup ties for Australia from 1999-2018.

“We have been fortunate to win it all on a number of occasions a long time ago. And I know what it meant to me as a player to play a final, and I am glad these guys can play it.”

Borna Coric put Croatia ahead by beating Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-4, 6-3, but Alex de Minaur leveled after defeating Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-2 to send it to the doubles.

Jordan Thompson and Max Purcell then secured the semifinal win against Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic by 6-7 (3), 7-5, 6-4.

“This is what this team is about, that never-say-die attitude,” De Minaur said.

Canada will face Italy on Saturday in the other semifinal.

In the opener, Kokkinakis struck 11 aces, but Coric was able to break him once in each set.

“On my serve, I felt like it was an ace or he put it back on my toes,” Kokkinakis said.

Cilic, who was on the Croatia team that won the title in 2018, committed 10 double faults. That erratic serve helped De Minaur break Cilic four times and level his head-to-head record with the former U.S Open winner at two wins each.

Thompson and Purcell bettered the more experienced pair of Mektic and Pavic, both ranked in the top 10 in doubles. Thompson and Purcell combined for 13 aces, broke the Croats twice, and never dropped a service game to come back after losing the first-set tiebreaker.

Two-time winner Croatia was the runner-up last year.

“It proved too difficult on the court today,” Cilic said. “(But) for us it has been a great year again after the finals last year to reach the semis.”

The final is on Sunday on the indoor court in Malaga.