KHARKIV, UKRAINE: The warm weather has been very welcomed by Team USA that expected cooler conditions when they faced off against Ukraine on an outdoor red clay court in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group play-off tie this weekend.
What was also welcomed by the USA was the outcome of day one action at the Superior Golf & Spa Resort in Kharkiv, which delivered a 2-0 lead to the Americans on Saturday. That leaves USA just one match win away from rejoining the coveted World Group in 2013.
“It was a fantastic start by Christina (McHale) and Serena (Williams),” said US Fed Cup captain Mary Joe Fernandez. “They both played their games. They were aggressive and I was pleased with both players today.”
McHale put the USA on the road to success by lifting the team to 1-0 in the opening match. Initially, it appeared like the 36th-ranked McHale would cruise to a quick victory after securing the first set 61 over 110th-ranked Lesia Tsurenko. But the match evened out at that point and it ended up taking the American two hours, 14 minutes to knock out a 61 46 63 win over Tsurenko, the top player on the Ukrainian team.
Ninth-ranked Serena Williams followed McHale onto the court and pulled off a quick 62 61 win over 171st-ranked Elina Svitolina, playing on her first Fed Cup team. The match only took one-hour, but Williams showed a bit of vulnerability in allowing her serve to be broken twice (the fourth game of the first set and the second to last game of the match).
Williams, who now has a 7-0 record in Fed Cup singles matches, allowed Svitolina to make the mistakes - 37 unforced errors to just 19 for Williams. The former world No. 1 also took advantage of seven of 13 break points presented, which certainly helped her finish the match without concern.
“My thing is to get out of there as soon as I can and it’s not hard in Fed Cup because you have a coach on the sideline to help motivate you and stay focused,” Williams said.
Williams, who had her ankle rewrapped for “precaution” after the first set, thinks the 17-year-old Svitolina showed great promise.
“She has a good game and she’s extra young so she has plenty of time to develop it from what it already is,” WIlliams said.
For Svitolina, just being able to play against a great - a 13-time Grand Slam titlist - was a thrill.
“It was so exciting and was a great experience for me,” Svitolina said. “She’s a great champion.”
Ukrainian Fed Cup captain Igor Dernovskyi told Svitolina: “It was very difficult to play the first tie against the legend of tennis. Serena lose three games to Elina today and I told Elina the three games are the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.”
McHale’s win became complicated at the end of the second set.
Serving the final game of the second set, McHale started out with an ace, but struggled from that point. She offered Tsurenko six set points in that game - a function of her failing first serve - and handed over the set on a double fault.
“I definitely didn’t get enough first serves in in that game,” McHale said of the close of the second set. “She was stepping into the balls and really going for it in that game. It was a combination of me not playing aggressive enough and her taking control.”
Tsurenko, now 3-4 in Fed Cup singles, didn’t believe she played well. But she thought that the momentum might shift in her direction after winning the second set.
“I had the good feeling because I thought I understood I found weaknesses in places,” Tsurenko said. “I’m really disappointed I didn’t use my good chances in the final set and that was my biggest mistake.”
McHale took a bathroom break following the loss of the second set and came out determined to close things down in the third set. She jumped out to a 3-0 lead and even though she returned one of her service breaks in the fourth game - losing that game on one of her six double faults in the match - she held on to a one break lead throughout.
Taking a 5-3 lead, McHale stood proud and tall on Tsurenko’s serve in the final game of the match. She broke serve to win the match at 0-40 on a sizzling backhand down the line that Tsurenko had no play on.
“In the third set it was pretty close, going back and forth, but I managed to hold my serve for 5-3 and then I played a good game to close it out,” said McHale, who is now 3-3 in Fed Cup singles action. “I didn’t want to let my team down so I was happy with the way I started in the third.”
Williams will try to finish off this play-off tie for the USA when she takes on Tsurenko in the first match on Sunday.
Follow this tie with live scoring and live streaming:
Serena Williams (USA) - 21/04/2012
Captain Mary Joe Fernandez (USA) - 21/04/2012
Lesia Tsurenko (UKR) - 21/04/2012
Christina McHale (USA) - 21/04/2012