WORCESTER, Mass. — Venus Williams returned from a five-month layoff, and Serena Williams and Christina McHale won singles matches Sunday, sending the United States past Belarus 5-0 in the first round of the Fed Cup.
By blanking Belarus in World Group II, the Americans head to a playoff in April in hopes of playing their way back into the top tier of the Fed Cup after getting bounced last year.
“You don’t want to be in this group any extra time,” U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez said. “It was big to win this one and now we have another task in front of us.”
Venus Williams and Liezel Huber completed the shutout with a doubles victory, defeating Darya Kustova and Anastasiya Yakimova 6-1, 6-2. This was Williams’ first sanctioned match since the opening round of the U.S. Open. She had been diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that can cause fatigue and joint pain and forced her to withdraw from the Open.
“It felt great,” Venus Williams said. “It was everything I expected. I’m really glad the team got to the 4-love lead.”
McHale won in straight sets for the second consecutive day, beating Darya Kustova 6-0, 6-1 to put the U.S. up 4-0.
Serena Williams had already guaranteed a U.S. victory earlier in the day by defeating Anastasiya Yakimova 5-7, 6-1, 6-1.
Top-ranked Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, the Australian Open champion, sat out all four singles matches with a back injury.
Venus Williams’ win almost overshadowed the team victory, which the U.S. players celebrated after Serena Williams’ win.
Once McHale cruised through the next match, the only pressure on Venus Williams was to help Huber preserve the shutout.
“It was perfect conditions,” said Venus Williams, who is uncertain when she will make her return to singles.
In the first round of World Group play, Russia beat visiting Spain 3-2; Serbia won 3-2 at Belgium; Italy downed visiting Ukraine 3-2; and the Czech Republic won 4-1 at Germany.
OPEN SUD DE FRANCE: In Montpellier, France, Tomas Berdych won his seventh career title, beating defending champion Gael Monfils 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in the final.
The top-seeded Czech broke for a 5-3 lead in the final set on a double fault from Monfils. He wrapped it up with his 12th ace.
ZAGREB INDOORS: In Zagreb, Croatia, Mikhail Youzhny beat Lukas Lacko 6-2, 6-3 to win in his 18th career final.
It was the first title for the 29-year-old Russian since St. Petersburg in 2010.