MINSK – Aryna Sabalenka pulled off a big upset in Saturday’s opening singles of the Fed Cup final, outlasting reigning US Open champion Sloane Stephens 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 to draw Belarus level with the United States at 1-1.
The 19-year-old Sabalenka blasted 31 winners but also committed 57 unforced errors, compared to 12 and 31, respectively, by her counter-punching rival in the two-hour contest.
After securing two service breaks – and only conceding her own serve once – in taking the first set, the big-hitting Sabalenka seemed to run out of steam.
She squandered two break points and had her serve broken early in the second set, providing Stephens the opening she needed to force a decider.
The third set featured a whopping seven service breaks, the last of them coming in the final game of the contest. On her fourth match point, Sabalenka pounced on a weak second serve by Stephens and forced a forehand error in the net.
“I’ve never felt so much emotion in a match,” Sabalenka said. “When you play at home and you’re down 0-1, and you have to win and you fight with yourself. My game was not so good. I was fighting with myself and finally I did it. I just started crying because it was such an important match.”
Earlier Saturday, CoCo Vandeweghe gave the US a 1-0 lead by defeating Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-4, 6-4.
The tie, played on an indoor hard court at the Chizhovka Arena in Minsk, will continue on Sunday, with Sabalenka playing Vandeweghe in a battle of two of the biggest hitters in women’s tennis and Sasnovich taking on Stephens.
A doubles match on Sunday will determine this year’s Fed Cup champion if the teams are knotted at 2-2 after the reverse singles.