EVERETT — Serena Williams bounced back and forth on the balls of her feet at the baseline of the newly-installed tennis court at Angel of the Winds Arena. Clad in all black, Williams hammered forehand after forehand across the net during the U.S. team’s practice session Thursday morning.
Yep, the greatest women’s tennis player of all time has landed in Everett, and she’s ready to lead the U.S. to Fed Cup glory.
The Fed Cup Qualifier between the U.S. and Latvia takes place Friday and Saturday at Angel of the Winds, and the world’s biggest international women’s tennis team competition is bringing the world’s biggest women’s tennis star to town for a once-in-a-lifetime visit.
Indeed, during the press conference following Thursday’s draw, Williams racked her brain before concluding she’d never played in the Pacific Northwest before.
“Actually, not off the top of my head, I don’t think so,” Williams responded when asked about previous experience in the area. “So this is good. I have a few friends here who have already contacted me and want to come see the games, which is exciting. I’ve never thought about that. I think one thing that’s exciting about playing so long is there are still places I havn’t gotten a chance to go. So when I do have the opportunity I like it.”
This weekend’s qualifier is for a spot in the 12-team Fed Cup Finals, which take place April 14-19 in Budapest, Hungary. The best-of-five tie, which consists of four singles matches and one doubles match, gets underway at 7:30 p.m. Friday night, with two singles matches on Friday, followed by two more singles matches and the doubles match on Saturday.
And the 38-year-old Williams, winner of 23 grand-slam tournaments, will be taking the court in Friday’s second singles match.
“As a tennis player you always play for yourself, and when you come to this team atmosphere and have a whole team of doctors and physical therapists, it’s just a really cool thing we don’t really experience often as tennis players,” said Williams, who is 13-0 in her career in Fed Cup singles play. “So I guess it makes me excited to go out there and do the best I can for the team, playing for my country and having the opportunity to show and shine the best way I can on that day.”
The draw to determine the matchups took place Thursday afternoon at Angel of the Winds Arena, and the U.S. is sending its big guns out in singles. U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi had options, as she named five players to her team, but she went with her burgeoning star and living legend to set the tone Friday night.
Friday’s first singles match features the U.S.’s newest star Sofia Kenin — less than a week after winning her first grand slam, as the 21-year-old claimed the Australian Open title last Saturday. Kenin, now ranked No. 7 in the world, faces Anastasija Sevastova, ranked No. 41.
“It’s still sinking in slowly, and I’m processing this,” Kenin, who is 2-0 in her career against Sevastova, said about coming off her Australian win. “But I’m super excited to win a Grand Slam, it was the best two weeks of my life. Then Kathy told me I’m going to join Fed Cup and it’s such an honor, I was super excited. I told her, ‘Let’s go, we’re going to do some stuff.’ I love it, I’m super excited. I was happy to take time off to come here — even though it was a long journey — I would have done anything to represent my country and be with you guys on the team.”
Then Friday’s second singles match is the one everyone’s waiting for as the 38-year-old Williams, currently ranked No. 9, faces 2017 French Open champion and 40th-ranked Jelena Ostapenko.
Williams and Ostapenko have never met before, and even Ostapenko had words of reverence for Williams.
“For me to play against Serena, I think it’s a great opportunity to share the court with such a great player,” Ostapenko said. “She’s done so much for our sport and she was always my idol since I was growing up. To now play against her, I’m just going to try and enjoy every moment.”
For the rest of the draw, Kenin is scheduled to face Ostapenko in Saturday’s first singles match, which begins at 3:30 p.m., while Williams is set to face Sevastova in the second singles match. Captains can change their players for the second day, however, and Rinaldi has 15-year-old sensation Coco Gauff waiting in the wings should either Kenin or Williams require a breather.
The tie concludes with the doubles match. The U.S. is sending out 18th-ranked Alison Riske alongside doubles specialist Bethanie Mattek-Sands. They’re scheduled to face Ostapenko and Sevastova, who are being asked by Latvia captain Adrians Zguns to perform heavy-duty work — Latvia’s other two team members, 255th-ranked Diana Marcinkevica and 502nd-ranked Daniela Vismane, represent a significant step down from Ostapenko and Sevatova. Lineup changes are also allowed for doubles.