ASHEVILLE, N.C. — When the Fed Cup resumes Sunday, Venus Williams — the top seed for Team USA — is scheduled to kick off the action. But perhaps the team is leaning on the wrong family member.
Here’s a suggestion for Kathy Rinaldi, the American team captain: Free up Venus’s sister, Serena, and let her play. The United States already is up 2-0 in the best-of-five competition, thanks to Venus’ straight-sets win, followed by a much more dramatic victory later Saturday by CoCo Vandeweghe.
So, really, what’s the harm, even if Serena isn’t in top playing form? She is the reason this event is a sellout. She is the player tennis fans want to see. So with the United States needing just one win on Sunday, Rinaldi and the four-member team contingent should make the move to unleash the greatest player in the history of women’s tennis.
We’ve only seen Serena play once since she won the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant, and that was at an exhibition match in late December against Jelena Ostapenko.
The event was impressive in that Serena, after being off for nearly a year, was able to take a set against the No. 7 player in the world. But it also showed tennis fans that the 23-time major winner still had a long way to go, enough so that it prevented her from defending her title in Melbourne.
Yes, Serena is just five months removed from having a baby, and yes, she had life-threatening childbirth complications. So the fact that she is here representing the U.S. in the Fed Cup for the first time since 2015 is commendable.
“She wouldn’t have agreed to play if she wasn’t ready,” said Rinaldi, when asked about possibly seeing Serena in singles on Sunday. “That’s something we’ll look at.”
Serena remains steadfast in reaching the top level again and surpassing Margaret Court for the most career Grand Slam singles titles.
To get to that level, Serena needs to put herself out there in an official match.
Rinaldi said when Serena agreed to play here, it was unclear whether she would play singles or doubles. The team ultimately decided doubles was the best route.
“You see the surface, you see how everyone is practicing, how everyone is feeling,” Rinaldi said. “As a team, a close-knit team that we are, we’re all open and honest and want to do what’s best for the team.”
Venus Williams discusses how much pressure there is representing the United States at the Fed Cup after her 1,000th career victory.
But now up 2-0 in a best-of-five series, why not let Serena loose? Why not give the fans a chance to see the return of the player responsible for selling out this tournament? If there are any doubts about that, just consider that while Fed Cup tickets went on sale in November, the building didn’t sell out until days after it was announced the Williams sisters were coming.
Venus brings out a crowd. But Serena sells out an arena.
The fans at the US Cellular Center showed up Saturday wearing red, white and blue attire, leather jackets in the image of the American flag and various headgear that showed their patriotism.
They started chants of “USA, USA” when the matches became tight, which probably had an impact on Vandeweghe’s come-from-behind win in the second match — one that included her drilling her racket into the court in frustration after dropping the first set and falling behind 3-0 in the second.
Imagine the reaction if Serena were to lead off the day Sunday?
Not just that, but it would be just as important for her to gauge where she is at in her comeback. During her hitting sessions this week, she showed significant rust.
And what if Serena plays that first singles match and loses? The United States has Venus (ranked No. 8), Vandeweghe (ranked No. 17 and with a 13-match Fed Cup winning streak) going against an overmatched Netherlands team that doesn’t have a player ranked among the top 100 in singles. (Richel Hogenkamp, who lost to Vandeweghe, is the highest-ranked singles player on the team at No. 107.)
There is little chance the United States would lose. A decision will be made sometime before the 1 p.m. ET start Sunday on whether Serena will take the court and, if so, in what capacity.
Tennis fans can only hope the main attraction is not relegated to a possible meaningless doubles match.
Free Serena. Let her play.