02/09/2018 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 02/09/2018 15:02
Venus Williams will begin USA's Fed Cup by BNP Paribas title defence - and contest her 1,000th professional singles match - when she takes on Netherlands' Arantxa Rus in the majestic Blue Ridge Mountain venue of Asheville, North Carolina.
USA is standing proud and tall as the reigning champions - and also boasts a star-studded team this weekend. Alongside world No. 8 Venus are 17th-ranked CoCo Vandeweghe and 62nd-ranked Lauren Davis, and, of course, 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams.
In contrast, the Dutch contingent are without doubt a less notable grouping, but certainly no less enthusiastic about the weekend task with 108th-ranked Richel Hogenkamp, 124th-ranked Rus, 165th-ranked Lesley Kerkhove and doubles specialist, 32nd-ranked Demi Schurrs, stepping up to represent.
While many were hopeful this would be the first official singles peek at Serena since she's been on a maternity sabbatical after winning the 2017 Australian Open, she was scheduled for doubles duty only with Davis against Kerkhove and Schuurs - although she could potentially still switch in for either Venus or Vandeweghe on Sunday. Williams became a mom to Alexis Olympia in September and married hubby, Alexis Ohanian, in November.
'I'm ready for whatever and I think Kathy (Rinaldi, USA Fed Cup captain) makes great decisions,' Serena said. 'I'm happy to not at least play on Saturday. I'm just getting a ton of practice here.
'I think you've got to put Venus and CoCo in. They've been having such a great past 12 months, it just makes sense,' she added. 'We're here ultimately to do what's best for the team and I think that's what's best for the team.'
Dutch captain Paul Haarhuis, a former US Open quarterfinalist and six-time Grand Slam doubles champion, was not surprised to discover Serena wouldn't be taking a singles role.
'It would've surprised me more if she had played,' he said. 'I thought the chance of her playing would be less than 50% just because the other girls have been playing for the last 13 months, playing a lot of matches, playing good, and she hasn't played one match.
'It would've been nice to play her the first-time now, after 13 months off,' Haarhuis added, smiling. 'If you ever play Serena then it's better to do it now.'
The Williams sisters have been setting records for longevity for years now - but 1,000 professional singles matches is a special achievement by any metric, and one that Venus will add to her hugely impressive resumé when she steps on court on Saturday. The older Williams sister has won 775 matches across Tour-level, Pro Circuit and qualifying events in a career spanning almost 24 years - compared to just 224 defeats.
'I know not so much about them,' Venus said of the Dutch opponents. 'You definitely cannot underestimate anyone. They know how to play tennis and they're professional athletes. They have skill and they've won lots of matches before.
'Playing for your country can either be nerve-wracking or bring the best out of you, so I have to be ready for the best.'
Vandeweghe, who delivered the USA to its 18th Fed Cup title last season by winning all eight rubbers she played in the three rounds of competition, is still ready for the new Fed Cup season to commence. Nevertheless, she's still allowing herself to enjoy the sensation of being a Fed Cup champion.
'It was really cool to see our names etched on the trophy now,' said Vandeweghe, who faces Hogenkamp in Saturday's second match. 'I had to take a selfie with that. It's nice to have new teammates out here who care about what we're doing and what we're going to do this year.'
'It's nice to get back into the swing of things tennis-wise because the Australian Open was a bit disappointing health-wise (flu) so I wasn't able to perform on what I worked on during the off-season.'
Rinaldi, who won the Fed Cup in her debut season in the position, is all about moving forward to the new Fed Cup year. And first on the agenda is the Netherlands with a win necessary for advancement to the semifinals
'Last year was an experience I will always remember and cherish with all the players,' Rinaldi said. 'Here, we're ready to go and we want to defend our title.
'When the emotions run high and you're playing for something else than yourself there's always pressure. Anything can happen and we're not taking them (the Dutch) lightly.'