Tennis: Venus and CoCo power US to early lead in Fed Cup as Serena waits in the wings

Venus Williams (right) reacts with her sister and team mate Serena Williams after defeating Arantxa Rus.
Venus Williams (right) reacts with her sister and team mate Serena Williams after defeating Arantxa Rus.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

ASHEVILLE, United States (AFP, REUTERS) - Venus Williams and CoCo Vandeweghe won the opening singles matches to give holders the United States a commanding 2-0 lead in their Fed Cup World Group opener against the Netherlands on Saturday (Feb 10).

Venus Williams swept aside Arantxa Rus in straight sets to take the US 1-0 up in their Fed Cup first-round tie against the Netherlands.

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 her 124th-ranked opponent to win 6-1, 6-4.

She joined Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and Lindsay Davenport as the only American women to win 20 or more Fed Cup singles matches.

The 38-year-old, who enjoyed a renaissance year in 2017 when she reached two Grand Slam finals, appeared to be showing her age as she tired towards the end of the second set even as her advantage in skill and raw power remained evident.

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 appeared to be losing in confidence as the set wore on.

The second set began more evenly, as both Williams and her 27-year-old opponent were unable to hold their own serves and found themselves matched at 2-2 before the American 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."

She added: "It's a little challenging, a little altitude out here. You know, I like to go big.

"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."

In the second singles, world No. 17 Vandeweghe battled back for a 4-6, 7-6, (8-6), 6-3 victory over world No. 108 Richel Hogenkamp to put the Americans one win away from the April 21-22 semi-finals.

Hogenkamp won four consecutive games to take the opener but Vandeweghe levelled the match with an ace on her fourth set point, triggering a massive fist pump and show of emotion that few expected from what initially appeared to be a mismatch.

Vandeweghe charged home in the decisive set to give her side a comfortable lead heading into Sunday's reverse singles and doubles closer.

BABY ALEXIS MAKES APPEARANCE

Serena, 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 team-mates 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.

Elsewhere, the Czech Republic, winners in five of the last seven years, ended day one of their tie in Prague against Switzerland 2-0 ahead after Petra Kvitova beat Viktorija Golubic in three sets before Barbara Strycova eased past Belinda Bencic.

Belarus were locked at 1-1 with Germany in Minsk, while hosts France and Belgium were also level going into Sunday's action.

Elise Mertens, an Australian Open semi-finalist last month, gave Belgium the lead with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Pauline Parmentier but Kristina Mladenovic beat Kirsten Flipkens 6-2, 6-4.