MINSK: 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 (7/3) 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 (7/5), 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.
“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 on 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. — AFP