EVERETT — Sofia Kenin was ballin’ out.
Coco Gauff and Bethanie Mattek-Sands were waiving red, white and blue pom-poms to fire up the home crowd.
And Serena Williams showed that even at the age of 38, it’s best not to get into a slugfest with the queen.
Williams and Kenin won their singles matches in straight sets to give the U.S. a commanding lead after the first day of its Fed Cup Qualifier against Latvia on Friday night before a packed house Angel of the Winds Arena.
Williams, women’s tennis’ greatest-ever player, was the main attraction Friday, and she sent the raucous sellout crowd of 6,367 home happy by defeating Jelena Ostapenko 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3) in the nightcap, giving the U.S. a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five tie.
“Wow, it was unbelievable,” Williams told the fans following the match. “I’ve played in front of so many crowds, but I don’t think I’ve ever played in front of a crowd this loud. Thank you so much!”
Kenin, just six days removed from winning the Australian Open championship, opened the evening with a convincing 6-2, 6-2 victory over Anastasija Sevastova.
Now the U.S., the winningest team in Fed Cup history with 18 championships, needs just one victory from three possible matches Saturday to claim one of 12 spots in the Fed Cup Finals, which take place April 14-19 in Budapest, Hungary.
Williams, winner of 23 grand slams, found herself in a slugfest with the hard-hitting Ostapenko, winner of the 2017 French Open. But Williams, who found herself on the defensive at times, hung in rallies just long enough for Ostapenko to make mistakes. That paid off in the first-set tiebreak when a pair of double faults and a pair of errors by Ostapenko gave the set to Williams.
But Williams was her vintage self in the second-set tiebreak. After falling behind 2-0, a pair of strong returns were too hot for Ostepenko to handle, putting Williams back in the driver’s seat. Williams’ blistering forehand winner down the line made it 5-3, and after an Ostapenko double fault Williams won it when Ostapenko fired a return long, causing the crowd to rise to its feet in appreciation.
“I definitely played well in the tiebreaker,” said Williams, who improved to 14-0 all-time in Fed Cup singles play. “I could play better.
“But my opponent played well,” Williams added. “She was hitting really hard, hitting a lot of winners. She was serving well. It was definitely hard to get a good rhythm out there.”
Kenin, who won her first major at the age of 21 last weekend, dominated from the baseline to stake the U.S. to a 1-0 lead.
Sevastova had no answer for Kenin, who was strong off both sides — Kenin had 26 winners versus just 19 unforced errors — and covered the court like an oversized blanket. The longer the points progressed, the more control Kenin exhibited.
The domination began in the match’s third game when, with the first set tied 1-1 and Sevastova up 40-love on her own serve, Kenin blistered a forehand return winner down the line. That began a stretch of five consecutive points as Kenin broke serve. Kenin went on to break Sevastova four times in the Latvian’s eight service games, while Kenin was rarely threatened herself.
“I feel like everything was going my way,” Kenin said. “I came up with some really clutch shots. I was getting really pumped, the crowd really helped me and I feel I played really well. I felt like I knew her game and I was able to do what I wanted to do and achieve what I wanted to do.”
U.S. coach Kathy Rinaldi was thrilled with her charges’ performances Friday.
“You know what, I have so much confidence in these girls,” Rinaldi said. “Obviously, (Williams) is the GOAT (greatest of all time) for a reason. She showed that tonight. But I have so much respect and admiration for Serena and (Kenin). (Kenin) coming back after the Australian Open, keeping her commitment, coming here and playing. It’s just great for American tennis.”
The final three matches, if necessary (a minimum of four matches will be played regardless), begin at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Angel of the Winds. First up is Kenin vs. Ostapenko, followed by Williams vs. Sevastova, with the tie concluding with the doubles match pitting the U.S.’s Alison Riske and Bethanie Mattek-Sands against Ostapenko and Sevastova. Captains have the option to make lineup changes the second day.