The U.S. faced the Netherlands in the first round of the 2018 Fed Cup, a tie that saw the return of one of the game’s best players to the court.
With multiple players winning Grand Slam titles and making deep runs at the majors, 2017 was a year to remember for American women on the WTA Tour, culminating in the group winning the Fed Cup title for the first time since the turn of the century.
Eager to defend the hard-earned title, Kathy Rinaldi, the captain of the team, picked two members of the top 10—Venus Williams and CoCo Vandeweghe—to lead the charge. She filled out the squad with Lauren Davis and a veteran arguably considered the greatest player of all time.
Serena Williams—who, after winning the 2017 Australian Open, took the rest of the year off to have her first child—was slated to make her official return to competition in the first-round tie against the Netherlands. With Kiki Bertens, their top player, unavailable, it was up to Arantxa Rus and Richel Hogenkamp—two players ranked outside of the top 100—to lead the singles charge, with Demi Schuurs and Lesley Kerkhove the doubles anchors.
Playing at home in the U.S., Venus Williams kicked off the tie against Rus. The American—who reached two Grand Slam singles finals in 2017—was off to a slow start in ’18 as she went winless during the Australian summer. Against Rus, though, she came out firing, taking the rubber against the world No. 124 in straight sets, 6-1, 6-4.
Next up was Vandeweghe against Hogenkamp. Coming off a career-best season that saw her reach two Grand Slam semifinals, crack the top 10 and lead the U.S. to the Fed Cup title, the American fell in the first round of the Australian Open and was eager to get back on track. However, Hogenkamp wasn’t ready to roll over easily as she took the first set and came within two points of winning the encounter. Raising her game for the occasion, Vandeweghe rallied to put the U.S. up 2-0.
After Williams won the first reverse rubber, the outcome of the tie was settled and the second reverse rubber was abandoned, which left the doubles. Making her return to official competition for the first time in more than a year, Serena Williams teamed up with Venus to take on Schuurs and Kerkhove. Understandably rusty, Serena Williams wasn’t able to make an immediate impact and the 14-time Grand Slam champions fell in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3. Still, the Americans were able to move on to a semifinal battle against France.
The Netherlands was playing in the World Group for the third year in a row, its best stretch of the 2000s.
Vandeweghe won her ninth match in a row between singles and doubles in Fed Cup play, dating back to the beginning of 2017.
Venus Williams’ opening match at this tie was the 1,000th singles match of her career, with her record standing at 776-224 afterward.
Follow Van on Twitter: @Van_Sias