Serena Williams lost a Fed Cup singles match for the first time in her career, falling to Anastasija Sevastova in three sets on Saturday night as Latvia pulled even with the United States at 2-all in the best-of-five match.
Sevastova won 7-6 (5), 3-6, 7-6 (4), avenging a loss to Williams in their only previous meeting in the 2018 U.S. Open semifinals when Sevastova won only three games.
This time it was Sevastova celebrating at the end, closing out the match with a huge serve Williams couldn’t return.
Williams had been 14-0 in Fed Cup singles dating to her debut in 1999, including a straight-sets win over Jelena Ostapenko on Friday night that had two tiebreakers.
“It’s obviously hard to play Serena and she’s an amazing champion,” Sevastova said. “You just try and enjoy it as best you can and give your best.”
The best-of-five series between the countries will be decided by the doubles match late Saturday night. The winner will advance to the Fed Cup Finals in April in Budapest, Hungary.
Williams had chances to clinch a victory for the U.S. and wrap up its spot in the finals. Williams rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the opening set by winning four straight games and had three set points with Sevastova serving. But the Latvian managed to hold serve thanks to a couple of errors by Williams and a pair of aces.
Williams broke the serve of Sevastova four times in the second-set, but couldn’t find the same success in the final set as both players held serve into the tiebreaker. Williams pulled even at 4-all, but Sevastova won the final three points and the match.
Both of the top-ranked Americans stumbled in singles on Saturday. Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin lost in three sets to Ostapenko in the opening match.
Ostapenko beat Kenin 6-3, 2-6, 6-2 to give Latvia its first point against the Americans. Ostapenko broke Kenin four times in the third set as the former French Open champion outlasted the most recent Grand Slam winner.
Fatigue from a whirlwind past seven days since winning in Melbourne may have finally caught up with Kenin. She struggled with Ostapenko’s power before adjusting to dominate the second set, but she couldn’t hold serve in the final set.
The pair exchanged breaks in the first three games of the third, leaving Ostapenko with a 2-1 lead. She nearly gave the advantage back to Kenin, but Ostapenko saved a pair of break points to take a 3-1 lead on a swinging forehand volley.
Ostapenko broke Kenin for the third time in the set for a 4-1 lead, but gave a game back to the American with a double fault.
Again, Kenin couldn’t hold. Ostapenko’s forehand winner gave her a 5-2 lead and she closed out the match in 1 hour, 58 minutes.
“It’s always very special to play for my country and I was just trying my best today,” Ostapenko said. “Until the last point I knew it was going to be a very tough match and I was trying to play aggressive.”
Kenin opened the event with a dominant win over Sevastova on Friday night. She found the challenge against Ostapenko far tougher.
The big-hitting, former French Open champion gave Williams all she could handle in the second singles match on Friday, losing because of errors in both tiebreakers. Ostapenko still had plenty of errors against Kenin – 49 unforced errors – but also had 34 winners to just 13 for Kenin.