An action-packed Day 1 of Fed Cup World Group I leaves the Czech Republic with an early lead over Switzerland, and defending champions USA ahead of the Netherlands, while France, Belgium, Belarus and Germany are all level at one win apiece.
Here’s how things stand after Day 1:
Czech Republic 2 - 0 Switzerland
France 1 - 1 Belgium
Belarus 1 - 1 Germany
USA 2 - 0 Netherlands
The United States started their title defense with a straightforward win, as Venus Williams took the court for the 1000th singles match of her career and defeated Arantxa Rus, 6-1, 6-4, to open their tie against the Netherlands.
The second match of the tie, however, was anything but routine. CoCo Vandeweghe let a 4-2 advantage in the first set slip, and Richel Hogenkamp reeled off seven straight games to lead 6-4 3-0. But Vandeweghe regrouped, eking out the second set in a tiebreak and eventually prevailing 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-3, in a grueling two hours and 36 minutes.
While Barbora Strycova breezed past a dangerous Belinda Bencic 6-2, 6-4 to leave the Czech Republic ahead 2-0 at the end of the day, it was Petra Kvitova’s heroic opener against Viktorija Golubic that put them in a winning position. Kvitova had to weather a dramatic mid-match surge from Golubic to win 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 and earn the crucial first point.
“It was a big fight from both of us,” Kvitova told FedCup.com after the match. “She came back very strong in the second set when I didn’t keep my serve, so I’m very pleased I was able to finish it somehow.
“I did enjoy it - not really the second set - but overall, I did enjoy it. It’s always better to win those matches. I missed Fed Cup a lot and when I heard the MC saying my name and the crowd, everything was back. I had some flashbacks to my past - but now it’s more happiness.”
In France, it was the team in blue that had to mount a comeback after Belgium’s Elise Mertens powered past Pauline Parmentier 6-2, 6-1. Kristina Mladenovic didn’t feel the pressure as she took to the court in the second rubber against Kirsten Flipkens, winning 6-2, 6-4 to level the tie.
“This is my environment,” Mladenovic told FedCup.com afterwards. “Pressure is an obstacle that I don’t fear at all.”
Home favorites Belarus found things getting complicated in Minsk. Up against a Germany lacking its biggest stars - Angelique Kerber and Julia Goerges were not among the nominees - and with Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko watching from the stands, the 2017 runners-up were in prime position to spring a first-round upset.
They were well on their way as Aryna Sabalenka came back from a set down to battle past Tatjana Maria 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.
“That was such a tough match, she made me play really well,” Sabalenka told FedCup.com. “I didn’t expect her to come to the net most points, so I’m happy I managed to adapt and win the second and third sets. I’m confident and I enjoyed playing a match like that.
She added, “When the president is in the stands sitting there, you want to show him your best tennis. I was a bit disappointed with my first set and I sat there worrying what he was thinking. Than I was coming back and I was so relieved!”
However, Antonia Lottner made a winning Fed Cup debut to put a wrench in the works. The German edged past Aliaksandra Sasnovich 7-5, 6-4 to leave the tie level at one apiece.
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All photos courtesy of FedCup.com.