In a rare showing of national support, Serena and Venus Williams will be in Worcester, Mass as team USA hosts Victoria Azarenka and Belarus this weekend in first round Fed Cup play.
The Williams sisters are of course playing – and missing Super Bowl festivities at Indianapolis – to preserve their bid to play in the 2012 London Olympics this summer.
Venus, who hasn’t played competitively since the US Open due to Sjogren’s Syndrome, needs only to be on the roster this weekend to qualify for a selection – though she must be ranked among the Top 4 American women to earn a spot on the team.
“I’m feeling better every week,” Venus said earlier in the week. “I’m feeling good, having some adrenaline gives me more energy. This is good to be here, especially since last year I couldn’t play. In Germany, I was standing on the sidelines which was tough because I couldn’t help the team at all. This year it’s great to be in a position to help.”
Serena must also be on the roster for the next U.S. match in April.
The Williams sisters are joined by American teenager Christina McHale, who is currently ranked a career-high No. 38 and is the No. 2-ranked American behind Serena Williams, and world No. 1 doubles player Liezel Huber. Sloane Stephens, the daughter of the late New England Patriots running back John Stephens, is serving as the fifth member of the team.
The Belarusian team features new world No. 1 Azarenka, who defeated Maria Sharapova in the 2012 Australian Open final to claim her first Grand Slam title and Olga Govortsova. Tatiana Poutchek is serving as captain for the team.
The U.S. has never fallen out of Fed Cup World Group. This will mark the first meeting between these two teams.
SINGLES A: CHRISTINA MCHALE (USA) vs. VICTORIA AZARENKA (BLR)
Christina McHale will be looking for her fourth career win over a Top 10 player when she faces world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka. McHale faced then-world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki twice in summer 2011, going 1-1. McHale upset Wozniacki in Cincinnati, and then lost to her in New Haven a week later. McHale is currently ranked a career-high No. 38 and reached the third round of the 2011 US Open and 2012 Australian Open. She and Azarenka have faced each other once before; Azarenka retired after losing the first set to McHale in the second round of Charleston, S.C., in 2010. McHale is playing in just her second live Fed Cup rubber. As the United States’ No. 2 player, she faced German No. 1 Andrea Petkovic in the opening rubber of the 2011 World Group Playoff in Germany, and lost 6-3, 6-4. Azarenka is ranked No. 1 in the world after winning the 2012 Australian Open. She has not lost a Fed Cup singles rubber since a match in Zonal round robin play in 2010. She is 10-4 in Fed Cup singles matches.
“Yeah, obviously it’s going to be a very tough match, so I think I just have to go out there and try and be as ready as I can,” McHale said.
Said Azarenka of McHale, “I think she’s a very good player. Obviously young and coming up.
Has a lot of motivation, you know, playing in the home crowd. She’s had some good results, played some good matches against top players and had a few big wins, so she’s a dangerous opponent.”
SINGLES B: SERENA WILLIAMS (USA) vs. OLGA GOVORTSOVA (BLR)
Williams is making her first appearance for the U.S. Fed Cup team since the 2007 World Group quarterfinal against Belgium, and just her fifth appearance overall. This will mark the third time in her Fed Cup career that she will occupy the No. 1 spot. Williams will face Belarusian No. 2 Olga Govortsova on Saturday for just the second time in her career. Williams beat Govortsova 6-3, 6-1, in the first round of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. This is the third time that Williams will play second on the opening day. Both times, the U.S. team was leading 1-0 when she took the court. Govortsova will be competing in a two-day, best-of-five-match Fed Cup tie for just the second time, having participated in multiple one-day, best-of-three-match round-robin Zonal ties. She played second on Day 1 in the 2011 World Group II Playoff against Estonia and beat Marqit Ruutel 6-0, 6-0. She is 5-2 overall when playing second, and 6-2 when playing first.
“Yeah, I’ve played her before as well, so this is a good opportunity,” Serena said of playing Olga. “She’s actually a really good player. She has a solid ranking, and so same thing: Just play for my
country and do the best I can.”
Tennis Channel will have live coverage all weekend.
UPDATE: Victoria Azarenka has withdrawn.
“It has been a while and I have been trying to take [the injury] day by day. I had the pain since the Australian Open and was hoping to recover, but did not have enough time with all the flying I did. Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen. It’s disappointing, but health is the most important thing. I am trying to do my best and over the last few days, I have got treatment and not so much practice. It is frustrating to sit out, but what I did in Australia was very physical, so the body needs a little break. We have a great team and the girls are ready to go.”
USA v Belarus Fed Cup Schedule
Saturday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Singles A: Christina McHale (USA) vs. Victoria Azarenka (BLR)
Singles B: Serena Williams (USA) vs. Olga Govortsova (BLR)
Sunday, 12:00 p.m. ET
Singles C: Serena Williams (USA) vs. Victoria Azarenka (BLR)
Singles D: Christina McHale (USA) vs. Olga Govortsova (BLR)
Doubles: Venus Williams/Liezel Huber (USA) vs. Victoria Azarenka/Olga Govortsova (BLR)
Other Fed Cup first round ties this weekend:
Russia v Spain
Venue: Olympic Stadium
Location: Moscow, Russia
R1: Sharapova (RUS) v Soler-Espinosa (ESP)
R2: Kuznetsova (RUS) v Suarez Navarro (ESP)
R3: Sharapova (RUS) v Suarez Navarro (ESP)
R4: Kuznetsova (RUS) v Soler-Espinosa (ESP)
R5: Makarova / Petrova (RUS) v Llagostera Vives / Parra-Santonja (ESP)
Belgium v Serbia
Location: Charleroi, Belgium
R1: Flipkens (BEL) v Jankovic (SRB)
R2: Wickmayer (BEL) v Jovanovski (SRB)
R3: Wickmayer (BEL) v Jankovic (SRB)
R4: Flipkens (BEL) v Jovanovski (SRB)
R5: Hendler / Van Uytvanck (BEL) v Jankovic / Krunic (SRB)
Italy v Ukraine
Venue: Lauretana Forum
Location: Biella, Italy
R1: Errani (ITA) v Bondarenko (UKR)
R2: Schiavone (ITA) v Tsurenko (UKR)
R3: Schiavone (ITA) v Bondarenko (UKR)
R4: Errani (ITA) v Tsurenko (UKR)
R5: Errani / Vinci (ITA) v Beygelzimer / Savchuk (UKR)
Germany v Czech Republic
Venue: Porsche Arena
Location: Stuttgart, Germany
R1: Lisicki (GER) v Benesova (CZE)
R2: Goerges (GER) v Kvitova (CZE)
R3: Lisicki (GER) v Kvitova (CZE)
R4: Goerges (GER) v Benesova (CZE)
R5: Groenefeld / Kerber (GER) v Hradecka / Zahlavova Strycova (CZE)
Japan v Slovenia
Venue: Bourbon Beans Dome
Location: Hyogo, Japan
R1: Date-Krumm (JPN) v Hercog (SLO)
R2: Morita (JPN) v Kolar (SLO)
R3: Morita (JPN) v Hercog (SLO)
R4: Date-Krumm (JPN) v Kolar (SLO)
R5: Fujiwara / Morita (JPN) v Hercog / Klepac (SLO)
Slovak Republic v France
Venue: Aegon Arena
Location: Bratislava, Slovak Republic
R1: Hantuchova (SVK) v Parmentier (FRA)
R2: Cibulkova (SVK) v Razzano (FRA)
R3: Cibulkova (SVK) v Parmentier (FRA)
R4: Hantuchova (SVK) v Razzano (FRA)
R5: Cibulkova / Hantuchova (SVK) v Cornet / Mladenovic (FRA)
Switzerland v Australia
Venue: Forum Fribourg
Location: Fribourg, Switzerland
R1: Bacsinszky (SUI) v Stosur (AUS)
R2: Voegele (SUI) v Gajdosova (AUS)
R3: Voegele (SUI) v Stosur (AUS)
R4: Bacsinszky (SUI) v Gajdosova (AUS)
R5: Bacsinszky / Sadikovic (SUI) v Dellacqua / Dokic (AUS)
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