Williams remains perfect in Fed Cup; US leads Latvia 2-0

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EVERETT, Wash. (AP) – Serena Williams remained unbeaten in Fed Cup singles matches, defeating Jelena Ostapenko in straight sets on Friday night 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.

Williams was outplayed for most 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 to improve to 14-0 in singles matches in the event. 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.

Earlier Friday, Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin gave the U.S. an early advantage with a dominant 6-2, 6-2 win over Anastasija Sevastova.

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

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.

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United States’ Sofia Kenin hits a forehand to Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova during a Fed Cup qualifying tennis match Friday, Feb. 7, 2020, in Everett, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
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