(Reuters) - Venus Williams and CoCo Vandeweghe won the opening singles matches to give holders the United States a commanding 2-0 lead in their Fed Cup World Group opener against the Netherlands in Asheville, North Carolina on Saturday.
Williams, with younger sister Serena watching on from the sidelines after being selected for the team, struck first with a 6-1 6-4 victory over Arantxa Rus on the indoor hard court.
After racing through the opening set, Williams was made to work in the second where the first five games all ended in service breaks. Williams finally saved a break point in the sixth game and held serve for the first time in the second set.
“It’s never easy and it’s always a challenge,” Williams said after beating her 124th-ranked opponent. “On paper, today I looked like I should win but it was a battle and I’m glad to get through that.”
With the win, Williams joined Billie Jean King, Chris Evert and Lindsay Davenport as the only American women to win 20 or more Fed Cup singles matches.
World number 17 Vandeweghe battled back for a 4-6 7-6(6) 6-3 victory over world number 108 Richel Hogenkamp to put the Americans one win away from the April 21-22 semi-finals.
Hogenkamp won four consecutive games to take the opener but Vandeweghe levelled the match with an ace on her fourth set point, triggering a massive fist pump and show of emotion that few expected from what initially appeared to be a mismatch.
Vandeweghe charged home in the decisive set to give her side a comfortable lead heading into Sunday’s reverse singles and doubles closer.
Serena Williams, who has not played a competitive match since she won the Australian Open title last year, will team up with Lauren Davis in a doubles match that will be played even if the U.S. clinch the tie earlier.
Elsewhere, the Czech Republic, winners in five of the last seven years, ended day one of their tie in Prague against Switzerland 2-0 ahead after Petra Kvitova beat Viktorija Golubic in three sets before Barbara Strycova eased past Belinda Bencic.
Belarus were locked at 1-1 with Germany in Minsk while hosts France and Belgium were also level going into Sunday’s action.
Elise Mertens, an Australian Open semi-finalist last month, gave Belgium the lead with a 6-2 6-1 victory over Pauline Parmentier but Kristina Mladenovic beat Kirsten Flipkens 6-2 6-4.
Reporting by Martyn Herman and Frank Pingue; Editing by Ed Osmond