WTA Tour

Venus, Vandeweghe put US up in Fed Cup clash

Venus Williams (AP)
Venus Williams (AP)

Asheville - Venus Williams got the defending champion United States off to a winning start in their Fed Cup first-round tie against the Netherlands on Saturday before CoCo Vandeweghe survived a scare to extend the lead to 2-0.

Cheered on by her younger sister Serena, who is poised to make her own comeback to the sport after a year away and the birth of her daughter, seven-time Grand Slam winner Venus made relatively light work of 124th-ranked Arantxa Rus, winning 6-1, 6-4.

The 37-year-old, who enjoyed a renaissance year in 2017 when she reached two Grand Slam finals, showed some signs of tiring towards the end of the second set even as her clear advantage in skill and raw power were on display.

It was her 1,000th career match and her 22nd singles appearance in a tournament she first played in 1999, but Williams insisted milestones were far from her mind.

"I don't really know about these milestones when they happen," she said. "It's just great to be playing the game that I love - not really going for milestones, but then they happen."

In front of a packed and roaring home crowd in mountainous Asheville, North Carolina, Williams won the toss and served first, closing out the opening game with a searing ace in an early show of intent.

Her Dutch opponent was unable to hold her own and later admitted she had let her nerves get to her as the first set slipped away.

"I didn't start good. I was a bit nervous. Also because you play against such a great player," said the 27-year-old.

The second set began more evenly, as the players found themselves locked in long rallies and the first five games resulted in service breaks.

They were level at 2-2 before Venus eventually began to pull away.

Williams acknowledged the second half was tighter than it could have been.

"It's never a win until it's over," she said. "On paper I looked like I should win the match but it was a battle and I'm glad the USA won the battle.

"I was trying to find the balance between going big and going too big. I think that today's match hopefully will help me for tomorrow."

Williams had a slow start to the year, losing in the first round of the Australian Open last month to Belinda Bencic of Switzerland, but insisted she had plenty of time to turn things around.

"I think I'm playing well. I just had some bad luck, I played players who just were on fire," she said. "Sometimes that happens, (it's) just the beginning of the year."

In the second singles, Vandeweghe rallied from a set down, winning the second in tense tie-breaker before finding her range against Richel Hogenkamp in a 4-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-3 victory.

Vandeweghe's early frustration came to a head when at 2-0 down in the second set and having lost six consecutive games, she smashed her racket in the latest tantrum of her mercurial career.

The final scoreline was far closer than the players' rankings, 17 and 108 respectively, had suggested it should be.

Serena Williams, who was already expecting daughter Alexis Olympia when she won her 23rd Gand Slam title at the 2017 Australian Open, is slated to play doubles on Sunday with Lauren Davis.

She received a big ovation during team introductions and sat on court with her teammates during Venus's match.

Baby Alexis Olympia, born in September, was in attendance, too, in the arms of her father, Alexis Ohanian, in the seats right behind them.

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