It was just like old times for the Williams sisters of Palm Beach Gardens, who worked together to win the Fed Cup World Group Playoff for the United States against Sweden at the Delray Beach Tennis Center on Sunday.
In a first for Venus Williams, she clinched this Fed Cup meeting for the U.S. team, giving it an insurmountable 3-1 lead courtesy of her 6-3, 7-5 win over 66th-ranked Johanna Larsson in the fourth match.
“It just feels good,” the 21st-ranked Venus Williams said. “Lots more pressure playing for a team. I know I’m playing for the U.S. and it’s not just Venus out there.”
Coming into Sunday, the two teams were tied at 1-1. World No. 1 Serena Williams lifted the U.S. team to a 2-1 lead earlier in the day with a 6-2, 6-1 win over 54th-ranked Sofia Arvidsson.
In the end, the United States secured a 3-2 win after forfeiting the doubles match — the fifth match of the weekend — because three of the four American players were dealing with injuries.
The 21st-ranked Venus Williams was not originally expected to play singles this weekend. But after 16th-ranked Sloane Stephens, a part-time Broward County resident, posted a straight-set loss to Arvidsson on Saturday, U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez decided to err on the side of experience, choosing instead to play Venus Williams.
“At the end of the day, experience just goes a long way,” said Fernandez, a Miami native. “Venus has been there so many times before. To have her in that clinching match for me was really important.”
Venus Williams, who now is 15-2 in Fed Cup singles matches, had been hoping that Fernandez would come around to playing her in singles.
“To be honest, I wanted to be out there,” Venus Williams said. “I told Mary Joe [Saturday] I feel good, I feel positive. I pumped myself up, and I wanted to be there for the team.”
Upon hearing she was benched, the accepting Stephens quickly donned a pair of American flag decorated leggings and cheered for her teammates. When the team won, it had the 20-year-old Stephens, an Australian Open semifinalist in January, hold the flag as they took a victory lap around the court.
Closing out the match was a struggle for Venus Williams, who failed to do so the first time she served for it at 5-4 in the second set.
In the final game, Venus Williams went through seven match points before a service winner secured the win on her eighth match point.
Serena Williams showed off her top-ranked status in exemplary fashion, taking care of Arvidsson in 57 minutes to improve her Fed Cup singles record to 10-0. Her only trouble came when serving into the sun in the third game of the first set. She put three break-point opportunities out there for Arvidsson but pulled through the game.
“Games like that are really important,” said Serena Williams, who posted 35 winners and 10 aces in the match. “If she had won that game, it would have been a tougher score or a different match. It was important for me to stay focused and win that game and fight for every point.”
The weekend victory provides the U.S. team with safe passage into the 2014 Fed Cup World Group but marks the end of the Fed Cup road for the United Statets this year. Sweden will be relegated to World Group II action next year.
“We have to wait 10 months to play [Fed Cup] again,” Fernandez said. “That’s the hardest thing about Fed Cup, the scheduling and how long it takes between the ties.
“You start building chemistry with the team and a lot of bonding.”
Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina won the decisive doubles match as Russia completed a 3-2 comeback victory over Slovakia to reach the Fed Cup final. Four-time champion Russia will travel to face either the Czech Republic or Italy in the final on Nov.2-3.
• Carla Suarez beat Ayumi Morita 6-3, 7-5 to give Spain an insurmountable 3-0 lead over Japan in their Fed Cup World Group playoff in Barcelona.
This report was supplemented with material from Miami Herald wire services.