EVERETT — Talk about a 1-2 punch.
The U.S. Fed Cup team will open its qualifier against Latvia on Friday night with Sofia Kenin, fresh off an Australian Open title, and Serena Williams, arguably the greatest women’s tennis player in history.
Kenin, who was designated as the U.S. No. 1 player by captain Kathy Rinaldi, will play Anastasija Sevastova, Latvia’s No. 2 player, at 7:30 p.m. That match will be followed by Williams, the designated No. 2 player for the Americans, taking on Jelena Ostapenko, Latvia’s No. 1.
The best-of-five match event will conclude Saturday with two reverse singles matches and a doubles match. Kenin, 21, opens Saturday’s play against Ostapenko at 3:30 p.m., followed by Williams against Sevastova.
Alison Riske and Bethanie Mattek-Sands are slated to play doubles against Ostapenko and Sevastova.
Williams, 38, has won 23 majors and is undoubtedly the biggest draw in the event. She is 13-0 in singles matches for the U.S. in the Fed Cup, but this will be her first time playing singles for the American team since 2015. Her first appearance for the U.S. team came in 1999.
“As a tennis player, you always play for yourself, but when you come to this team atmosphere … it’s just a really cool thing that we don’t get to experience often as tennis players,” Williams said Friday, when asked about her success in the event. “I guess it makes me excited to go out there and do the best that I can for my team and to play for my country, and having an opportunity to show and shine in the best way that I can on that day.”
Kenin, who moved to No. 7 in the world rankings after winning the Australian Open, and Williams, ranked No. 9, would have to be considered favorites Friday, but victory is anything but certain.
Ostapenko, ranked No. 40 in the world, has been ranked as high as No. 5. The 22-year-old won the 2017 French Open. Sevastova, 29, is ranked No. 41 and has been ranked as high as No. 5.
Kenin enters Friday’s match less than a week after claiming the biggest title of her career at the Australian Open. There was no doubt she would be in Everett, even with such a short turnaround.
“I love coming to Fed Cup and representing my country,” said Kenin, who knocked out Fed Cup teammate Coco Gauff in the fourth round at the Australian Open. “It’s such an honor and privilege to be part of this team. I love coming to Fed Cup, it’s a lot of emotions here and we are going to do the best we can to do some damage.”
Kenin has beaten Sevastova in both of their matches, including a straight-set win last month in New Zealand.
“I know her game pretty well,” Kenin said. “Obviously, she’s a tough player, and a good player … but I am going to come out and represent my country and leave all my heart and everything on the court, and just use what I did to win (in New Zealand) hopefully tomorrow.”
The Saturday lineup, unlike Friday, could still change as captains are able to make substitutions. So even though Gauff, the 15-year-old sensation, is not part of the announced lineup, it is possible she could still play.
If one team clinches the title with a 3-0 lead after the first match Saturday, the second singles match that day would not be played, but the doubles match would take place. If a team clinches after the last singles match Saturday, the doubles match might not be played.
If the doubles match ends up deciding the winner, Riske and Mattek-Sands will be ready.
“I like pressure situations, and you know you have your team backing you up,” Mattek-Sands said.