By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) – American Serena Williams was drawn on Friday to play doubles in a potentially decisive fifth rubber in this week’s Fed Cup first round tie against the Netherlands in what will be her first competitive match in over a year.
The doubles rubber, which is scheduled for Sunday on an indoor hard court in Asheville, North Carolina, will be played even if one side clinches the best-of-five match series through the opening four singles matches.
Serena’s sister Venus Williams and CoCo Vandeweghe are set to contest the singles rubbers for the U.S.
Former world number one Serena Williams, who is looking to return to the top of her sport after taking a break due to her pregnancy, has not played a competitive match since she won the Australian Open title last year for her Open-era record 23rd grand slam.
Williams, who gave birth to her daughter last September, lost an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi last December to French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and later skipped the year’s opening grand slam in January due to concerns about her fitness.
The 36-year-old has not competed in a Fed Cup tie since April 2015 but felt the event was as good as any to start her comeback under the leadership of U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi.
“Why not Fed Cup? It’s a great opportunity to get, I mean, a new set of eyes on what I’ve been doing with Kathy,” Williams told reporters after the draw ceremony where it was determined she would play with world number 62 Lauren Davis.
“Also just hitting with different people, just seeing different balls, seeing lots of different things. I think it actually is a really perfect opportunity to try to come back.”
Williams owns a 13-0 singles record and 3-1 doubles record in Fed Cup competition. She and Davis will face world number 165 Lesley Kerkhove and Demi Schuurs, who is ranked 32nd in doubles.
Rinaldi did not rule out the chance of Williams playing singles on Sunday, saying only that adjustments to the current lineup, if any, would only be made after Saturday’s action.
The United States beat Belarus last year for a record-extending 18th Fed Cup title, their first in 17 years, and are heavy favourites to beat the Netherlands.
Play begins on Saturday with seven-times grand slam champion Venus Williams facing world number 124 Arantza Rus followed by a clash between American world number 17 Vandeweghe and world number 108 Richel Hogenkamp.
Reverse singles matches followed by the doubles match are scheduled for Sunday.
The winner advances to the April 21-22 semi-finals.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis)