Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor
The USA rolled to a two-match lead Saturday in the first round of Fed Cup 2016 behind victories from Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens.
Both singles players will be in action again Sunday, as well as Bethanie Mattek-Sands and CoCo Vandeweghe in the doubles match.
Seven-time Grand Slam champion and former world No. 1 Venus Williams shook off a nervous start to outlast Poland’s Paula Kania, 7-5, 6-2, in one hour and 12 minutes.
Williams is now 18-2 in singles in Fed Cup action; Kania was making her Fed Cup singles debut.
In the first singles match of the day, Sloane Stephens, the U.S. No. 2 singles player, defeated Poland’s No. 1 player Magda Linette, 6-2, 6-4, in one hour and 13 minutes.
Stephens trailed, 0-4, in the second set before making a comeback and winning the set.
Stephens is now 2-2 in singles in Fed Cup, while Linette is 1-4.
The U.S. is 20-0 when leading 2-0 after the first day of play (since the World Group format was instituted in 1995). The U.S. is 37-6 all-time in Fed Cup ties played at home.
Vandeweghe and Mattek-Sands are scheduled to take on Alicja Rosolska and Klaudia Jans-Ignacik.
Vandeweghe reached the mixed doubles final at this year’s Australian Open and is ranked No. 46 in the world in doubles. Mattek-Sands, ranked No. 6 in the world in doubles, won the 2015 Australian Open and French Open women’s doubles titles with Lucie Safarova and has won 17 career WTA doubles titles overall.
However, Vandeweghe and Mattek-Sands have never paired up for a doubles match before.
Rosolska and Jans-Ignacik have played together 16 times, the last coming in Fed Cup last year. Rosolska is ranked No. 46 in doubles and has won four WTA doubles titles, while Jans-Ignacik is ranked No. 50 in doubles and has won three WTA doubles titles.
The winner of this match advances to the World Group Playoff, held April 16-17, to compete for a spot in the 2017 World Group. The losing nation will play in the World Group II Playoff in April to remain in World Group II in 2017.
Fed Cup is the world’s largest annual international team competition in women’s sport with approximately 100 nations taking part each year.
The U.S. leads all nations with 17 Fed Cup titles, the last coming in 2000.
The U.S. holds an overall 144-36 record.
USA Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. First, congratulations. Second, how was the sun and the serve working today?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Yeah, thank you. The sun was a little bit of a challenge, but I think as the match went on I was able to adjust to it a lot more.
That’s what have to do, you know.
Q. What were you able to change around at 4-5 in the first? Pretty much dominated after that.
VENUS WILLIAMS: You know, she had some good shots; she played well; I had a few errors.
I think I at 5-4 I was actually very relaxed. I think her strengths is playing from behind. I think when she was in front it wasn’t as comfortable for her.
So just that game, I put some balls in, she missed a few, and at 5-All I probably had more experience than she did.
VENUS WILLIAMS: Much older.
Q. Mary Joe, getting two wins today, how important was that for you guys?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Very important. Each match is important. It’s so much better to go into the second day with the lead, but you still have to finish the job.
We’ll start with the first one with Venus playing at 10:00 and focus on that one. But, yeah, it’s huge to come through the two. There were tense moments in both the first and second matches, so it was great to be able to get through both of them.
Q. The two matches were up and down. Maybe not as dramatic the second match; both were erratic. Do the conditions have anything to do with that? How much do they have to do?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Well, I think both for Venus and Sloane, they haven’t played a singles match in quite a while. So it’s getting back into that rhythm and match play.
I’ve said this before: When you play Fed Cup it’s a different type of tension, a different type of expectation. You got to get in the moment. I thought the crowd were phenomenal and got behind both players when the points were important.
But I was really proud of how Sloane fought back in the second set. She played some of her best tennis the last three or four games.
And how Venus stayed relaxed even when she was 5-4 and continued to apply pressure and then played really well in the second set.
Q. Going back to Sloane, when you’re a captain sitting there and all of sudden the score is 3-zip, what kind of thoughts are going through your mind to try and calm her or help?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Well, I try to look more at how the points are being played. I don’t look at the score as much. I felt that after the first set where she was really dictating and attacking short balls, using her forehand more, it changed.
I just tried to remind her of what was working and to try to get back to it as quickly as possible. I felt she was in every game. She really had the opportunity to go on that kind of run that she did. So it was just a reminder, Okay, keep looking for the short ball; keep pushing her back.
Because once the points started to play according to the way Sloane needed to play, it changed.
Q. Thank you, Venus, for all your good work today. In regular, individual tennis you don’t have the benefit of having a coach, captain sitting with you. How is this different for you in Fed Cup where Mary Joe can be with you on the change overs?
VENUS WILLIAMS: Definitely different. Definitely a positive. I think I’m just a very even-keeled player, so hopefully that’s easy on Mary Joe.
You know, just little pointers always help because sometimes you don’t see everything. So just to be able to have real-time corrections is very similar actually to most other sports, you know?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: Uh-huh.
Q. You talked yesterday about the element of fun you enjoy about Fed Cup. Would you enjoy being a captain in the future?
VENUS WILLIAMS: I don’t think I could. Mary Joe works really hard. (Laughter.)
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: She could.
VENUS WILLIAMS: She’s out every day in the sun. It’s a lot of work.
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: It is, but she would make a phenomenal captain.
VENUS WILLIAMS: You deal with different personalities, so you have to have a lot of the patience and energy and have to be able to inspire. It’s not easy shoes to be in, so…
Mary Joe thinks I can, so…
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: She could. As she said, she is very even-keeled. I think she would make a phenomenal captain. She’s the best role model and leader. I think when you demand that respect and people look up to you it makes sense, so…
Q. Venus, your response to that made me think of what you’ve brought to tennis for the United States, you and your sister. I just wanted to thank you for it.
VENUS WILLIAMS: Thank you.
Q. You’ve brought such highlights I don’t think we’ve had in ever.
VENUS WILLIAMS: Thank you.
Q. You guys have a big day tomorrow but it’s Super Bowl Sunday. Cheering for a team? Have any predictions?
VENUS WILLIAMS: What time in the Super Bowl?
CAPTAIN FERNANDEZ: I didn’t even know the Super Bowl was tomorrow.
Q. 1:30 p.m.
VENUS WILLIAMS: Is it 1:30? This is our Super Bowl right here. We can’t play for them and they can’t play for us, so we’ll be focused tomorrow.
If we finish, which we probably won’t, we watch the game. Hopefully there will be a replay somewhere at some point.
Poland Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Several times during the match you had breaks and opportunities. Can you kind of expand on those? Tell us kind of how the match went and how you were feeling.
PAULA KANIA: You know, I was a little nervous in the beginning. I think was pretty much the same (indiscernible) so you could actually see it.
Because there were many breaks, like you said. It was definitely not my day with my serve, you know, so it was really tough for me to hold it.
But I try my best. She is a great player. She’s a legend. I have respect for her. It’s never easy when you’re not playing your kind of best tennis to win with this kind of players.
Actually it was really close, so like you said, big lesson for me for the next time. I will try to stick to the plan a little better. I hope it will work.
Q. As a team, going into tomorrow 0-2, does your mentality change at all?
PAULA KANIA: No, it doesn’t change anything for us. We came here to give our best, and it doesn’t matter if we play tomorrow when the score is not good for us. We will just go there and enjoy and try to win the match.
Q. Both matches were a little up and down and erratic. Did the conditions have anything to do with that?
PAULA KANIA: Conditions are really, really hard, you know, for us. The temperature is really high. It’s a big humidity. Actually, I would say the sky is so clear. It actually never happens normally. So something different with the serve when you toss the ball.
So it’s really tough conditions. The court is quite slow. It’s brand new, so, you know, like it’s actually different than we normally play in other tournaments.
It’s the same for everybody, but you could see it was up and down. I think it’s tough to say, you know, but it’s actually everything around, you know.
CAPTAIN JANS-IGNACIK: You could also see when Venus was serving she had problems with the sun. But it’s just changing all the time. We are used to these changes. Like every week we are somewhere else. Sometimes one day it’s hotter and some days a little bit colder. We have to adjust fast.
Sloane Stephens Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. First, congratulations, Sloane. Second, just want to know your thought process as you quickly got down in the second set and had the miraculous comeback to take it.
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah, I definitely had a little fart there at the beginning of the second set, but I regrouped well and I was happy that I was able to play some solid tennis towards the end.
It happens, so all I can really take from that is that I tried my butt off and never gave up. That’s all that really counts.
Q. Technically what changed, or was it all above the neck?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I kind of just ran out of gas. Needed some sugar. I had some caffeine and a little taste of a bar and I felt better. I got my energy back up and I was kind of bouncing around again and I felt good. So I think that definitely helped a little bit.
Q. Some history. Magda, have you played her before?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I played her one time. I played her in the first round in D.C. last year.
Q. What do you need to do against her to not get in a 4-All hole, I guess?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Well, I definitely think Fed Cup play and tournament play is very different, so, I mean, today obviously you’re playing for your country. There is a little bit more always that goes into playing for your country.
The next time I play her I’m going to do the best I can, but it’ll be for myself and probably won’t be for my country so not that much stress.
But, you know, we’ll see.
Q. You just answered my question with the stress. When you get down 3-Love in Fed Cup, what does Captain Mary Joe say to you?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Keep fighting; keep playing your game; stick to the strategy we set; believe in yourself and play hard.
Only encouraging things. There is only so much — obviously she believes in us. Getting down 4-0 I’m sure she was a little panicked, but never going to let me see that she’s a little worried, so…
Q. It is technically a home match for you guys, but about the furthest home match you could get. What was the atmosphere like?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Amazing. This is the first tie I’ve played we’ve sold out, so was it really, really nice and the fans were great. They were loud. It was awesome.
I think we should have every tie here obviously.
Q. You challenged a call. Can you tell us what the protocol is for challenging calls?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I didn’t challenge a call; she challenged a call. Yeah, normally happens like, Oh, I thought that was in. I’m challenge it. It’s in or out and that’s it.
Q. Do you have a certain number of challenges?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah, three each. For every set you get three. In the tiebreaker you get an extra one.
Q. How was today different from how you thought it may be, or the same?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I mean, you can’t really predict going into a match what’s going to happen. You just have to go out and do your best. Today I was obviously a little nervous. Playing for your country is always really big, so for me, just going out there and doing the best I could even though I was down 4-0, just keep trying my butt off and never giving up, that’s all you can do when you’re playing for your country.
Q. You guys have a pretty busy schedule tomorrow. A lot of people will be watching the Super Bowl. You have any feelings or predictions?
SLOANE STEPHENS: I’m all about Cam, so whatever happens…
I’m all about Cam. That’s all I can say.
Q. I don’t know if you remember the point, but I think it was a break point maybe at 4-All. You hit…
SLOANE STEPHENS: My passing shot?
Q. You remember?
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah.
Q. But what I am thinking of – you had the great passing shot – but it was the stab volley. You were almost like — you kind of went out and got the volley and then you were — you know, you it came back and you got the down-the-line winner.
SLOANE STEPHENS: Yeah, like I said before, you got to keep fighting. You’re going to get your opportunities one way or another. I think for myself and anyone, if you just go out there and do your best, at the end of the day you’re going to get some sort of the opportunity to nail it.
I think at 4-All, break point, that was my opportunity, and then I served out the match. So was it nice.
Magda Linette Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. Give us your thoughts on that match overall to start with.
MAGDA LINETTE: Well, overall obviously the first set was, you know, like Sloane was more in the control and I was like missing a lot. I couldn’t find a little bit the rhythm in my match.
She’s a player who changes the tempo a lot and the spins. Maybe doesn’t look like it, but she’s a very tough player for the opponent because you have a feeling she can do basically everything and she’s everywhere.
So I was kind of looking for myself there to find my game. Then I decided to be a little bit more aggressive and I just a little bit sacrifice maybe the last game of the set, but it obviously paid off in the beginning of the second set. I was definitely more aggressive.
I just regret I didn’t follow that up, you know. I had the chances. I didn’t use them. I stopped doing what I was doing 4-0. Obviously she’s top 30 player. She’s not going to give me just like this a set.
I should have some more guts and go for my shots and I didn’t. She came back with even better game, and then it was really difficult to do something because she came up with amazing shots. At the end, I was like giving my best, but she was just better at the end.
Q. Was the heat or fatigue a factor at all?
MAGDA LINETTE: The heat? Yeah, I mean, it was really hot, but I don’t think the match was that long. I don’t think it was like (indiscernible), but it was definitely really hot today.
But still, the match was one hour, ten minutes. So I think after like around two hours then I would start feeling it a little bit more. Then it would have some influence. But I think until then it was still too short still.
Q. I think it was at 4-All in the second set and you had some very tough points where Sloane got that break. The crowd was really into it. I know you’re used to that with Fed Cup, but did that affect you in any way?
MAGDA LINETTE: Not really. You know, I was actually quite happy with my attitude today because I really could like turn off myself from that. I was not listening to that at all. I think maybe I grow up a little bit finally.
I don’t think so, but she just came up with amazing shots that more affected me than the crowd. I just try to be focused on my game and not what’s happening outside of the court.
Q. How many days have you been in Hawaii with the Maui challenger and this?
MAGDA LINETTE: I think around two and a half weeks. Yeah, pretty amazing.
Q. So is your game different anywhere? What have you learned over the two and a half weeks between the challenger and this?
MAGDA LINETTE: Well, definitely when I played the challenger I didn’t have matches. I had food poisoning on the beginning of this season and I basically played my first match in Australia against Monica Puig, so I really needed some matches.
That’s why I just played really bad in the challenger. But then I lost like the second round match, but I played a little bit better. You know, it was more handling my nerves and of course to get used to the stress.
I think that just helped me that I came before because I knew here I am going to have that on a higher level. I sacrifice the challenger to get used to it and get into the season.
Because on the beginning I actually lost, you know, my chances to play some matches to get used to the match rhythm. We’ve been just practicing really good. I think I was just like in a really good form because we just practice really well.
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