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By Chris Oddo | Saturday February 9, 2019

Madison Keys set the table for a critical clash on Sunday with a brutally efficient takedown of 20-year-old Kimberly Birrell, 6-2 6-2.

Keys had to have the match, after Ash Barty kicked off the tie by polishing off upstart American Sonya Kenin, 6-1 7-6(2) to give Australian the lead, and both Barty and Keys will be under the gun to stake their team to a 2-1 lead when the pair kick off Sunday’s festivities in Asheville by meeting for the second time.

The American World No.17, who cracked 16 winners to just 6 for Birrell, improved to 4-2 lifetime in Fed Cup singles, while Birrell drops to 0-2.

Barty improved to 7-1 in Fed Cup singles tilts and improved her Fed Cup winning streak in both disciplines to nine.

"Ashleigh is going to be incredibly tough," Keys said after the match. "She obviously had a really good start to her season already and she had a really good year last year--she's playing some of the best tennis--and she's going to compete on top of all of that."

She won 22 more points than Kenin over the course of their 79 minute contest, but had to keep her composure at the end of a dramatic second set that saw the feisty American save a pair of match points with Barty serving for the match at 5-4.

Kenin broke and managed to force a tiebreaker, but the World No. 13 dominated the breaker to hand the Green and Gold the opening rubber.

The promising World No.37 drops to 3-0 in Fed Cup play. Kenin could be counted upon to defeat Birrell in Sunday’s second rubber, but American Captain Kathy Rinaldi will have the option to play higher-ranked Danielle Collins if she wishes.

Collins, who is slated to play doubles, was reportedly kept out of the singles because she is recovering from an illness

The USA has reached the finals of Fed Cup in each of the last two seasons, and they won the title in 2017. They hold a 9-5 edge over Australia, including victories in each of the nation's last two ties.


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