(April 20th, 2013) -- U.S. Captain Mary Joe Fernandez faces a tough decision tomorrow as her gamble on recently slumping Sloane Stephens
didn't pay off.
Playing her first ever Fed Cup singles rubber proved too much to ask for Stephens as she surrendered the first point during the Sweden versus U.S. World Group playoff in Delray Beach, Florida.
Facing Sofia Arvidsson
who she beat earlier in the year in Brisbane, the Australian Open semifinalist came out nervous in the opening games of the first set. On a very hot and blustery day, Stephens dropped her serve early but managed to stay close with Arvidsson in the set.
But Arvidsson, who was competing in her 48th Fed Cup tie, held on to her advantage and took a 6-4 one set lead.
With the large American crowd cheering her on, Stephens appeared to get her head and game in the right gear as she secured an early break of serve and soon went up 3-0.
Stephens soon closed out the set 6-4. A heat rule was enforced before the start of the final set. But that delay became extended when heavy rain stopped play for almost twenty minutes.
When the players returned, Stephens got off to a sluggish start and never really recovered. Falling behind 0-4, Stephens grew more frustrated with the errors flying off of her racquet. Despite Arvidsson herself showing nerves as she headed for the finish, Stephens couldn't take advantage and soon found herself serving to stay in the match.
A nervy, error-filled final game from both women ended on Arvidsson's fourth match point when Stephens dumped a volley into the net, marking the American's 74th unforced error on the day. That allowed Arvidsson to seal the much needed 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 win for her team.
Stephens admitted afterwards that the pressure of playing for her country at home was a factor.
"I think this is the most pressure I've had since Australia," Stephens said. "Playing for a team obviously I didn't want to let my team down. This is probably the most pressure and anxiety that I've had since Australia. It's definitely a tough situation and obviously I want to do really well for my team so it's tough losing, but I'm going to go out for my team and hope Serena wins her match and we can start up with a bang tomorrow again."
Serena Strolls Past Larsson; Evens Tie
A second rain delay pushed back the start of the second singles rubber between Serena Williams
versus Johanna Larsson
into the early evening.
But when the clouds lifted, it was Williams who shone brightest as she seized a quick break of serve in the opening set.
Williams, who was playing Larsson for the very first time, didn't need much time to figure out the Swede's game. The World No. 1 pocketed the first set 6-2.
The second set saw Williams fight off early break points against her before holding serve. Larsson went 0 for 3 on break point chances in the set and that left her little hope of testing Williams in the match.
Williams, who hit 31 total winners and 18 unforced errors, wrapped up a 6-2, 6-2 win in just over an hour.
With the tie now deadlocked at 1-1, Captain Fernandez has a difficult decision to make before tomorrow's reverse singles rubbers. Stephens is currently scheduled to play in the second singles rubber against Larsson after Williams faces Arvidsson first. But Fernandez may choose to slot in place of Stephens either Venus Williams
or Varvara Lepchenko
who both may also be asked to play doubles together should the tie come down to it.