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Serena Williams, McHale put US up 2-0 over Belarus with Fed Cup singles wins
WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) ' Serena Williams beat Olga Govortsova 7-5, 6-0 on Saturday to give the United States a 2-0 lead over Belarus in the Fed Cup.
Christina McHale won in straight sets in the opening match before Williams put the Americans one win away from advancing in the best-of-five series in World Group II.
Belarus was playing without Australian Open champion and world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, who was out with a lower back injury.
McHale capitalized by beating Azarenka's replacement in straight sets, and Williams completed the U.S. sweep.
Williams won the first three games of the match, then struggled a little before holding serve for a 6-5 lead and breaking Govortsova, who double-faulted while already down love-40.
Govortsova seemed to have nothing left for the second set against Williams, who quickly ended it with her overpowering strokes.
McHale posted a 6-0, 6-4 win over Anastasiya Yakimova, who was called upon Saturday morning to play for Azarenka.
Azarenka is eligible to play Sunday, when the teams play two more singles matches and one in doubles. Belarus would need victories in all three in order to win the series.
The winner advances to a playoff round and a shot at the Fed Cup top tier, which the U.S. team was bounced from last year.
Azarenka is scheduled to play Williams in Sunday's opening match, but her status remained uncertain Saturday.
Williams improved to 5-0 in Fed Cup singles, which she hadn't played since 2007. She was cheered on courtside by older sister Venus, who is listed on the U.S. doubles team for Sunday in what would be her first match since the opening round of the U.S. Open in August.
Venus Williams has been battling an autoimmune disease that can cause fatigue and joint pain, but hopes to return to competition this weekend.
By the time the doubles match comes Sunday afternoon, the Americans may not need the older Williams sister. Captain Mary Joe Fernandez also could play Venus Williams in he second singles match, but said as of Saturday it was still Serena Williams to play as the top American, followed by McHale and then the doubles team of Venus Williams and Liezel Huber, the world's No. 1 doubles player.
The Belarus lineup is going to depend on how Azarenka is feeling. She said her back has been bothering her since the Australian Open and the long flight to the United States didn't help.
McHale won the first 10 games of the opening match, then survived a scare in the second set when Yakimova rallied from 4-0 to tie it. Yakimova didn't appear ready early, but pushed the young American in the second set before McHale closed it out. She broke Yakimova, then held serve after falling behind love-30.