US off to strong start in Fed Cup

US off to strong start in Fed Cup

US off to strong start in Fed Cup

Defending Fed Cup champions the United States were one point from advancing to the semifinals Saturday after a comfortable victory for Venus Williams, with sister Serena waiting in the wings for her much anticipated comeback.

Seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus Williams needed an hour and 19 minutes to brush aside her 124th-ranked Dutch opponent Arantxa Rus 6-1, 6-4.

A more laboured win followed for the mercurial CoCo Vandeweghe, who lost her first set to Richel Hogenkamp and broke a racket in frustration during the second before fighting back to a 4-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-3 victory.

They were both cheered from the bench by Serena Williams, who is poised to make her own return to the sport on Sunday after a year away and the birth of her daughter Alexis Olympia, who attended in the arms of her father Alexis Ohanian one row behind.

Venus' win came in her 1,000th career match and her 22nd singles appearance in a tournament she first played in 1999. In front of a roaring home crowd in mountainous Asheville, North Carolina, Venus won the toss and served first, closing out the opening game with a searing ace in an early show of intent.

The second set saw the players locked in long rallies and the first five games resulted in service breaks.

They were level at 2-2 before Venus eventually began to pull away.

Serena, who is scheduled to play doubles on Sunday alongside Lauren Davis, received a big ovation during team introductions and sat on court with her teammates during Venus's match.

Earlier in the day, Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic made a tearful return to the Fed Cup, admitting her team's 2-0 lead over Switzerland in Prague had been inspired by a moving tribute to fellow All England Club champion Jana Novotna.

"We went onto the court and held the minute's silence which made us cry," 27-year-old Kvitova told reporters after beating Viktorija Golubic 6-2, 1-6, 6-3.

Under a large portrait of 1998 Wimbledon champion Novotna holding the trophy, the Czech team remained silent for a while, then started a round of applause which was shared by the crowd in Prague's O2 Arena.

Barbora Strycova then eased past Belinda Bencic 6-2, 6-4 to put the Czechs in charge of the first round tie.

Belarus, 2017's runners-up, were level at 1-1 with Germany after the opening day in Minsk.

Antonia Lottner, making her Fed Cup debut for Germany, downed Aliaksandra Sasnovich 7-5, 6-4 after Aryna Sabalenka had earlier seen off Tatjana Maria 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.

In La Roche sur Yon, France, like Germany two-time winners of the Fed Cup, fought back to 1-1 against Belgium.

Elise Mertens, who made the Australian Open semifinals last month, gave Belgium the first point by easing past Pauline Parmentier 6-2, 6-1 before Kristina Mladenovic pulled France level with a 6-2, 6-4 win over Kirsten Flipkens.

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