Newly-crowned Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin and 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams gave the United States a commanding 2-0 lead over Latvia on the opening day of their Fed Cup qualifying tie on Friday.
Williams survived a late wobble to beat 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/3) in the final match of the night in Everett, Washington.
Kenin had put the United States up 1-0 with a brisk 6-2, 6-2 victory over Anastasija Sevastova.
Williams followed with a hard-fought win over Ostapenko that improved her perfect record in Fed Cup singles to 14-0.
“I’m really proud of being able to get the win for the team,” said Williams, who was ousted in the third round of the Australian Open in her latest bid to match Margaret Court’s record of 24 major titles.
Williams needed two tiebreakers and one hour and 46 minutes to do it.
She appeared poised to finish Ostapenko off after breaking for a 6-5 lead in the second set, but she was broken herself in the next game and dropped the first two points of the ensuing tiebreaker.
But Williams won five straight points to take a 5-2 lead in the decider, and Ostapenko double-faulted to give her a match point that Williams seized.
Two double-faults had been costly for Ostapenko in the first-set tiebreaker as well, giving Williams the upper hand after an opening set in which they went toe-to-toe after an early exchange of breaks.
Williams is playing in her first Fed Cup match since 2018 – when she played doubles with her sister, Venus.
She hadn’t played singles in the women’s nations event since 2015, but with the Tokyo Olympics on the horizon the US veteran was all-in on tennis as “a team sport now.”
In that vein she added thanks to her incredible partner Kenin.
“I was so excited,” Williams said of seeing Kenin capture her first Grand Slam title just six days earlier with an upset of two-time major winner Garbine Muguruza in the Australian Open final.
Kenin needed only 68 minutes to get past 41st-ranked Sevastova, showing no sign of a let down after her Melbourne triumph.
“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 will have a chance to seal the tie for the United States when she meets Ostapenko on Saturday, with a place in the finals in Budapest in April is on the line.
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