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The U.S. One Step Closer to Regaining World Group Status

In today’s third rubber, Serena Williams validated the adage that “it’s not how you start, but how you finish that counts”. Williams overcame Belarus’ Anastasia Yakimova 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 to clinch a spot for the United States in the World Group II play-offs.

On Saturday, Australian Open reigning champion Victoria Azarenka withdrew from World Group II competition due to a back injury. With the Worchester Massachusetts fans cheering them on, the Americans led by Serena and Christina McHale banked both ties in straight sets to take a 2-0 edge.

In the first match, Christina McHale fought off a spirited battle from Yakimova in the second set to win 6-0,6-4.

After carrying the first ten games and just one point from a 5-0 lead in the second set, McHale faltered. Consequently, Yakimova picked up four successive games and leveled the set at 4 all.

Ultimately, McHale recovered and obtained the crucial break for 5-4. Then, McHale closed out the match for her initial victory in Federation Cup play.

The next contest featured Serena and marked her return to the U.S. team for the first time since 2007. Following a slow start, Serena finished strongly against Olga Govortsova 7-5, 6-0.

Leading 3-0 in the opening set, Serena allowed the Belarusian back into the match as a result of a bevy of miscues. Eventually, with Govortsova serving to push the initial set into a tiebreaker, Serena seized the break to bed the set.

Now on a roll, Serena put on the afterburners. By serving a bagel in the second set, Serena placed the U.S. one win away from wrapping up the tie.

Today, after being gifted the break with successive double faults by Yakimova for a 3-1 advantage, Serena failed to capitalize on several break points to get to 5-1. This proved to be the key to the opening set.

Helped by more mistakes from Serena, Yakimova got the break and held to square the first set at 4 a piece. Later, the Belarusian stole a second game from Serena for 6-5 and went on to capture the set.

In one hour and nine minutes, Serena committed over 32 unforced errors and destroyed her racket after dropping serve the initial time as captain Mary Joe Fernandez looked on. That release turned out to be the antidote Serena was searching for.

With her first serve in gear, better shot selection and movement, Serena raced to a 4-1 lead in the second set. Subsequent to getting the insurance break, Serena capped off the set in 26 minutes.

In the decisive set, Serena took control breaking Yakimova three times to cinch the victory.

In the fourth, McHale crushed Darya Kustova 6-0, 6-1. In the last dead rubber, Venus Williams and Liezel Huber trashes Yakimova and Kustova 6-1,6-2. This was Venus’ first match in Federation play in five years and her first of 2012.

The U.S. await the play-off seeding. Japan, Australia and the Slovak Republic also won their tie to reach the play-offs.

In World Group action, defending champion Czech Republic led by world number two Petra Kvitova overpowered Germany by 4-1 and will face Italy in the semifinals.

Three time champion Italy survived Ukraine with Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci winning the deciding rubber.

The other semifinal will see Serbia clash with Russia. Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova were instrumental in the Russians vanquishing Spain.

Playing in Belgium and with the home team ahead 2-1, Serbian youngster Bojana Jovanovski defeated veteran Kirsten Flipkens 6-2, 6-4 to get the equalizer. Later, with partner Aleksandra Krunic, Jovanovski prevailed in the ultimate rubber in three sets to book Serbia’s maiden appearance in the semifinals.

Nathalie Narcisse

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