The United States claimed their first Fed Cup title for 17 years as Shelby Rogers and CoCo Vandeweghe beat Belarus pair Aryna Sabalenka and Aliaksandra Sasnovich in a deciding doubles rubber in the final on Sunday.
Vandeweghe and Rogers won 6-3, 7-6 (3) to give the Americans a 3-2 final victory and an 18th Fed Cup crown.
“I’m just really thrilled for all four players,” said US captain Kathy Rinaldi. “CoCo (Vandeweghe) came out and just played unbelievable. Shelby (Rogers) stepped up and Sloane (Stephens) — my heart was broken for her, but she battled this whole weekend, she battled all the way to the end. I’m so proud of all four of them.”
Earlier on Sunday, Vandeweghe put the USA 2-1 up by beating Sabalenka 7-6 (5), 6-1, while Sasnovich battled back from a set down to beat Sloane Stephens 4-6, 6-1, 8-6 to draw Belarus level at 2-2.
The 19-year-old Sabalenka and Sasnovich, 23, dropped a serve apiece in the first set and the Americans surged in front after just 26 minutes.
The Belarus duo replied positively and broke both Vandeweghe and Rogers in the second to move 5-2 ahead but the visitors then broke back twice to level at 5-5.
In a tense conclusion, the hosts broke Rogers again but the American pair would not buckle despite the intense atmosphere of a Minsk crowd desperate to see a first home Fed Cup triumph.
Sabalenka dropped serve again to send the set to the tiebreak where the experienced US duo triumphed.
In Sunday’s early match Sabalenka and Vandeweghe both played with confidence under the watchful gaze of Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko on the hard-court at the packed Minsk Chizhovka 8,000-seat arena.
The 25-year-old American took the opening set after 50 minutes winning it in a tiebreak.
In the second Sabalenka, who is 78th in the world, suddenly lost her nerve allowing Vandeweghe to break twice before she took the set and the match sealing her victory with an accurate backhand.
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) November 12, 2017
“I knew if I just kept giving myself opportunities and getting my nose in front in her service games, I’d keep getting opportunities and she’d eventually break down,” Vandeweghe said.
“She did what she’s supposed to do and did what I expected her to do – just swing and pray for it to go in and she did. So you just got to recover and keep fighting.
“And then it showed in the second set, she withered when I kept the pressure on her, and then I just closed it out.”
Later Sunday, US Open champion Stephens, 24, broke her rival’s serve early in the opening set to lead 1-0 after 42 minutes.
But in the second Sasnovich broke twice to level at one set all after one hour 10 minutes on court.
In the deciding set, Stephens led 5-2 before Sasnovich, 23, roared back with four straight games before eventually closing it out 8-6 as Stephens suffered her sixth straight defeat since winning her maiden Grand Slam title in New York in September.
“It was one of the most tense matches in my life,” Sasnovich said.
“I gave everything I have for the win, the god of tennis was on my side today. The support of the crowd helped me to stay concentrated throughout the game. It was a fantastic match.”
On the opening day Vandeweghe put USA into the lead with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Sasnovich, while Sabalenka beat Stephens 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 to pull the scores level at 1-1.
Belarus were without former world number one Victoria Azarenka who was forced to remain in the United States to fight a custody battle over her baby son.
Sitting in front of Roger Federer while he speaks about the size of Jack Sock’s bum is not what anyone expected from day one of the ATP Finals in London on Sunday.
Yet two decades into his career, Federer is still able to surprise us and that was certainly an interesting curveball.
In the seventh game of the first set during Federer’s opener against Sock, the two opponents came face to face up at the net, with the former having an open shot on his forehand for the pass winner.
Knowing there wasn’t much he could do to cover the net, Sock simply turned around and bent over, and his tactic worked as Federer netted his passing shot attempt.
— doublefault28 (@doublefault28) November 12, 2017
“It was a big distraction, I’ll tell you that, because it was very big,” Federer said, sending the room into laughter.
“That’s what I should have aimed for. That target was bigger than the down-the-line court that I had. It’s happened sometimes in the past, but not on a big stage like this.”
Sock explained himself in his press conference saying: “I did it more for fun. Probably do it three times a year. No, it’s not a normal tactic.”
Federer claimed a 6-4, 7-6 (4) win over Sock to claim his 50th victory of the season and begin his assault on a seventh ATP Finals title with routine success.
BEST OF FRENEMIES
Meanwhile, a suited-up Rafael Nadal received his year-end world No.1 trophy on centre court after Federer’s win.
Federer was in contention for the year-end top ranking up until a couple of weeks ago, but his withdrawal from the Paris Masters gave way for Nadal to grab it himself.
Even though he would have wanted to be the one receiving that trophy, Federer was happy to stick around and celebrate Nadal’s achievement on Sunday.
“I was supposed to do the Sky interview afterwards, and they wanted to talk to me about the tactical element of the match. The Rafa trophy presentation was going on. They said, ‘Is it okay to wait?’
“I said, ‘Well, yeah, I better wait because this is a big deal. This is a huge thing’.”
What a special kind of rivalry those two share!
Nadal rocketed up to No.1 in the world after winning two Grand Slams in 2017 and has regained his top form to end the season at the summit of the rankings.
Still, that dream year has winded down to a tricky situation, where Nadal is dealing with a right knee injury that is denting his chances at this week’s ATP Finals.
The 31-year-old Mallorcan believes he will be ready to contest his first match against David Goffin on Monday, but the build-up to that showdown has undoubtedly been filled with stressful times in the Nadal camp, as they attempt to manage his injury while preparing him for a tournament that will pit him against the world’s very best from the get-go and an event he has never won before.
Sport360 sat down with Nadal’s coach and ex-world No.1 Moya at the O2 in London to discuss the current mood in the team, his first year with the 16-time Grand Slam champion and more.
How has it been for the team in the build-up to this event? Has it been stressful with the injury or have you all been able to stay calm through it?
Well, trying to… being the last event of the year, we know that things are not easy, it’s been a long year, not just for him, but for all the other players. Obviously we had to change plans in terms of practice. But he’s playing well. It’s the last effort. He achieved his goals, he finished No.1 in the world, so in that part there is no stress but otherwise he wants to compete, try to win this event, but overall it’s okay.
What’s Rafa like in these situations? If he’s injured, would he still try to go all out in practice and you and Toni have to ask him to slow down? Or is he more careful and cautious?
He’s learning to be careful, he’s listening to his body more than before and probably if this was the beginning of the year and another tournament he wouldn’t play. It’s the last tournament, it’s the Masters Cup… he’s listening more and more and he has to.
He has never won the ATP Finals before and he mentioned the other day that the tournament always being played on indoor hard court is a factor in that. Do you think Rafa can beat all those top rivals on this surface?
Of course he can. He probably beat all of them during his career in these conditions. So I don’t know exactly why in the past he wasn’t able to win this tournament. Hopefully this is the last year where he hasn’t been able to win here. But usually it takes for him a while to start the tournament but in the Grand Slams or other events, the first couple of rounds are guys who are outside the top-50 or top-70, here the first match is against a top-10 player already, so maybe that’s one of the reasons but I don’t know exactly.
This is my first year with him in the team. Try to always analyse why things are happening but let’s see how it goes this year.
How do you feel about your first year coaching Rafa, and what have you learnt the most from it?
I think it can’t get any better than this, he won two Slams and finished No.1 in the world, it was like a dream come true. When we started at the beginning of the year that’s something I thought could happen and it actually happened. All has been achieved and that’s great.
What I’m learning, I try to learn every day being with such a tremendous player. This is my second year as a coach, trying always to be open, trying to learn. Last year I learned from Raonic and his team, this year I learned from Rafa. Even though I know him very well there is always things you get to know better.
Anything in particular that jumped at you?
The mentality he has, that never giving up attitude, I don’t think he gave up not even one point this year, so that’s something that you rarely see in all the other players, how he’s able to turn things around when he’s in trouble, that thing still amazes me. I don’t know if you can teach that or a player can learn that but it’s something, after what I’ve seen all these years, it keeps me really amazed what he’s doing.