Serena leads U.S. past Belarus; Venus returns

Serena Williams recorded a singles victory on Sunday to move the United States into the Fed Cup World Group Playoffs.

The 2011 U.S. Open runner-up Williams improved to 2-0 this week by overcoming Anastasiya Yakimova 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 at DCU Center in Worcester. The victory gave the host Americans an insurmountable 3-0 lead in their best-of-five World Group II battle against Belarus, which was forced to play without world No. 1 star and Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, who is nursing a back injury after beating Maria Sharapova in last week's Aussie Open finale.

Williams blew a 4-1 lead against Yakimova in the opening set on Sunday, but cruised after dropping the opening stanza by winning 12 of the next 14 games.

The former No. 1 and 13-time Grand Slam champion Williams and Christina McHale were a pair of singles winners on Saturday, as McHale beat Yakimova and Williams topped Olga Govortsova, in straight sets. McHale improved to 2-0 for the week on Sunday with a 6-0, 6-1 drubbing of Belarus' Darya Kustova to give the U.S. a laughable 4-0 margin.

The festivities in Worcester wrapped up with a dead doubles rubber, which the U.S. won 6-1, 6-2 with Venus Williams and Liezel Huber blasting Kustova and Yakimova to polish off a 5-0 win. It marked Venus' first tennis since pulling out of last year's U.S. Open in the second round as she battled Sjogren's syndrome, an incurable autoimmune disease that causes fatigue and joint pain.

Venus, like her young sister Serena, is a former world No. 1 and owns seven major singles titles.

This was the first-ever Fed Cup meeting between the 17-time champion U.S. and Belarus.

Team USA advanced to the World Group playoffs where it will meet a World Group first-round loser in April and needs to win in order to have a chance to compete for the Fed Cup title next year.