WORCESTER, MA, USA: It didn’t come easy, but Serena Williams lifted the USA to an insurmountable 3-0 lead over Belarus to enable the Americans to move on to the Fed Cup World Group play-offs in April.
Never before had the USA been relegated to World Group II status in Fed Cup. Now the country with a record 17 Fed Cup titles is in a position to play for the opportunity to move back up to the World Group in 2013.
Christina McHale changed the USA’s lead to 4-0 when she recorded a 60 61 win - she won the first 11 games in a row - against Darya Kustova in the fourth rubber, and the 5-0 whitewash was completed by Venus Williams and Liezel Huber in the doubles.
Serena prevails after shaky start
Williams had initially been scheduled to face world No. 1 and reigning Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, but a bad lower back kept Azarenka from taking to the court this weekend.
Anastasiya Yakimova substituted for Azarenka, but the 65th-ranked Belarusian couldn’t keep the momentum she built in the first set lasting against Williams.
“Obviously it's a big loss for us that she couldn't play,” Yakimova said. “But if she's injured, it's tough. It can happen to everyone, that's life.”
Williams struggled through the first set against Yakimova, but eventually prevailed 57 61 61.
“It wasn’t my best day today, for sure,” Williams admitted after the match. “It’s important for me to just get matches. I just need to get matches.”
When Williams surrendered her serve at 15-40 on a badly netted backhand to go behind 3-4 in the first set, she was so frustrated that she smashed her racket. She then tossed it behind her chair during the changeover.
“I don’t know how that happened,” she said, laughing. “I think the ground lifted it up to my racket, I think that helped relax me, I think.”
“She has a real junk game, you know, where you just hit slice on everything,” Williams said. “Shocking, no one's really playing like this. But, you know, you have to be able to face everybody. I made too many errors.”
Yakimova believed that Williams changed her attitude and not her style to take control of the final two sets.
“I think she became just more calm,” Yakimova said. “Let's say I think she said to herself just to relax and take step by step, point by point....I think she didn't change maybe the way she played, but she maybe became a little bit more consistent and stable and more powerful with everything she was doing.”
Belarus will play in April’s World Group II play-offs in an attempt to preserve their World Group II status.
Serena Williams (USA) - 05/02/12
Christina McHale (USA) - 05/02/12
Venus Williams (USA) - 05/02/2012
Liezel Huber (USA) - 05/02/2012