Venus Williams and CoCo Vandeweghe powered the defending champion U.S. Fed Cup team to a 3-0 sweep of the Netherlands over the weekend in a tie that also saw the return of Serena Williams to the court for the first time in 2018.
On the first day Venus beat former world No. 1 junior Arantxa Rus 6-1, 6-4, and Vandeweghe recovered from a nervous start to defeat Richel Hogenkamp 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-3. Venus in the first match on Sunday clinched the tie by beating Hogenkamp 7-5, 6-1.
Serena teamed with Venus in the dead-rubber doubles match as the sisters fell to the Dutch team of Lesley Kerkhove and Demi Schuurs 6-2, 6-3. It was step one for the younger Williams sister in shaking off the rust after the birth of her first child and competing for the first time since winning the 2017 Australian Open.
“It felt really good to be back on the court,” Serena said afterwards. “I’ve been training and it’s exciting to be out there. A lot of, not nerves, but anticipation for myself, but that’s good, that’s normal…it’s just a start, and a very good step in the right direction.”
The U.S. moved into the April 21-22 semifinals where it will travel to France. The French advanced by defeating Belgium 3-2 behind two singles wins and a clinching doubles victory by Kristina Mladenovic.
The French Fed Cup team is embroiled in drama as top player Caroline Garcia refuses to play, and Alize Cornet remains under investigation by the International Tennis Federation after missing three out-of-competition doping tests. The depleted French roster against Belgium forced them to play No. 91-ranked Pauline Parmentier, who lost both her singles matches.
The other April semifinal will see the Czech Republic against Germany. The Czechs blanked Switzerland 3-0, while the Germans edged Belarus 3-2.
The U.S.’s April semifinal, regardless of the surface chosen by the French, will come down to rosters. For the U.S., the question is what line-up can captain Kathy Rinaldi put together from top players Venus and Serena Williams, CoCo Vandeweghe and Madison Keys.
Both Williams sisters have expressed an interest in playing in the semifinals, and both need two more Fed Cup appearances before the summer of 2020 to be eligible for the next Olympics.
For the French squad, putting another solid singles player on the court with Mladenovic will be the challenge. The Top 10-ranked Garcia has been feuding with her fellow Fed Cup teammates over the last year and says she wants to concentrate on tour play. If Cornet also remains unavailable, the French may have to lean on 21-year-old rising player Oceane Dodin, currently ranked No. 95, who has yet to make her Fed Cup debut.
On paper, the U.S. and the Czechs are the favorites to set up what would be a blockbuster Fed Cup final in November. If Petra Kvitova and Karolina Pliskova are both healthy come year end, the 10-time Fed Cup champion (and five of the last seven years) Czechs will be the ultimate test for the defending champion Americans.