EVERETT — No women’s tennis player in the world has played better the past two weeks than Sofia Kenin. And no American has had a better career than Serena Williams.
Together, they gave the U.S. a 2-0 lead over Latvia after the first day of action Friday night in the Fed Cup qualifier at Angel of the Winds Arena.
It started with Kenin, fresh off her Australian Open title, defeating Anastasija Sevastova 6-2, 6-2. It ended in a thriller, with Williams, 38, defeating Jelena Ostapenko 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-3).
With the way Kenin has been playing, it was no surprise that U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi designated the 21-year-old as the team’s No. 1 player for this weekend’s Fed Cup, even with Williams being a 23-time major champion. Six days after winning the Australian Open, Kenin got the U.S. off to a great start in its best-of-five qualifier against Latvia.
“I’m so happy we won,” Kenin said of her match. “I started off really well. I was obviously a little nervous coming in after Australia, and I felt tired, but I tried to get that out of my mind and do what I do best.”
Kenin, who improved to 3-0 in her career against Sevastova, took control early in the first set. After both players easily held serve in the first two games, Sevastova took a 40-0 lead in the third game. But Kenin won five straight points after that, displaying the devastating and accurate ground strokes from the baseline that served her so well in the Australian Open. That not only gave Kenin a 2-1 lead, but also the momentum.
“She was playing some really good tennis and I knew I just needed to hang in there,” Kenin said. “I broke and I felt the momentum change big time for me.”
Kenin got another service break two games later, coming back from 40-15, then saving four more game points after the game went to deuce. That gave the American a 4-1 lead, and the first set was soon over. Kenin broke Sevastova’s serve in the first game of the second set.
Sevastova had a glimmer of hope when she rallied from 0-40 to win her next service game and avoid falling behind 3-0 in the set. She then took a 30-0 lead in the next game, but Kenin rallied to win the game, then broke Sevastova’s serve in the next game and it was all but over.
“I didn’t like that I lost after leading 40-0; I felt like I had it and things could have gone differently,” Sevastova said. “But I was able to somehow maintain my composure and play some good points.”
She played a lot of good points. It wasn’t a case of Sevastova playing poorly. It was all about Kenin playing brilliantly and displaying great court coverage, just as she had in her two-week run in the Australian Open.
“We got off to a great start, thanks to my incredible partner who also won the Australian Open,” said Williams, 14-0 in Fed Cup singles.
The tennis wasn’t quite as clean in the Williams-Ostapenko match, but it was easily the more suspenseful. Williams broke Ostapenko’s serve to take a 4-2 lead in the first set, but Williams gave the break right back in the next game, hurt by a pair of double faults.
But when the set went to a tiebreaker, it was a pair of double faults from Ostapenko that allowed Williams to pull away and win after the tiebreaker was knotted at 3-3. Williams served for the match up 6-5 in the second set, but Ostapenko, 16 years younger, broke Williams’ serve to set up another tiebreaker.
Ostapenko won the first two points of the tiebreaker before Williams took over, roaring a couple of times on key points.
“When I make a point when it’s that tight, you have all this emotion and I had to do the roar at least once,” she said. “I am really proud to get the win for the team.”
Saturday starts with two singles matches. Kenin is slated to play Ostapenko and Williams is scheduled to play Sevastova. That will be followed by a doubles match, with Alison Riske and Bethanie Mattek-Sands scheduled to play Ostapenko and Sevastova.
Coaches can make subsitutions to their lineups Saturday, so those lineups could change. If the U.S. clinches the win by going 3-0 in the first three singles matches, the second singles match Saturday would not be played, but the doubles match would be. If a team clinches victory in the final singles match (taking a 3-1 lead), it is likely the doubles match would not be played.
Donation made to local tennis
The United States Tennis Association announced that it is donating $25,000 to the USTA Pacific Northwest section and the city of Everett to help boost tennis in the region.
The gift is part of the USTA’s Fed Cup Legacy Program, which is designed to leave a lasting mark in the communities that host Fed Cup ties in the United States.