The US Cellular Arena in Asheville serves as the venue for the 24th Fed Cup meeting between the USA and Australia and it promises to be a great one after the opening day that saw a point for each country. In the battle of the in-form youngsters, Ashleigh Barty defeated Sofia Kenin 6-1, 7-6 in an hour and 19 minutes to get the things going for the away squad and earn her seventh Fed Cup singles win in eight matches.
The Aussie served at only 48% although she drew the most from it, blasting ten aces and losing serve only once to mount the pressure on the other side of the net. Kenin was nowhere near those numbers behind the initial shot and she gave the serve away three times, failing to send the match into a decider despite a solid effort in set number two.
Barty managed to find the range right from the start, breaking Kenin in games two and six for a one-sided run in the opening set, breaking again in the third game of the second set to open a 5-3 lead. Returning to stay in the match at 4-5, Sofia gave her best to save two match points and grab a crucial break that prolonged her chances for a more favorable result.
Despite two early mini-breaks in the tie break, Ashleigh remained confident and rattled off six straight points to seal the deal and bring the match home without having to play a decider, which is always dangerous in the matches like this.
In the second rubber, Madison Keys toppled the 20-year-old Kimberly Birrell 6-2, 6-2 in 63 minutes to erase the deficit and set the perfect plot for Sunday's matches that will determine the last Fed Cup semi-finalist.
Madison served at 77% and that was the right formula for the desired outcome, dropping 16 points on serve and losing serve once. On the other hand, she was all over Birrell on the return, taming the rival's serve to win 55% of the points, clinching five breaks from 11 chances to keep the USA alive.
Madison secured the opening set with breaks in games two and eight, racing into a 5-1 lead in set number two before Kimberly pulled one break back to prolong the match at least for a game. That was all she could do, though, losing serve again a few minutes later to push motivated Keys over the finish line.
On Sunday, Keys will face Barty in the opening match that could determine the overall winner and the semi-finalist before the remaining fourth singles rubber (Kenin and Birrell should play it) and the doubles clash.