Coco Vandeweghe, of the United States, returns to Monica Niculescu during the Miami Open tennis tournament in Key Biscayne, Fla., Sunday, March 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
Alan Diaz
April 16, 2016

BRISBANE, Australia (AP) Even without Serena and Venus Williams, the United States was too strong for Australia in their Fed Cup playoff, clinching a spot in the elite eight-nation World Group next year with a 4-0 sweep.

CoCo Vandeweghe replaced Madison Keys in the opening reverse singles match on Sunday and came from a set and a break down to beat Australian No. 1 Sam Stosur 2-6, 7-5, 6-4, giving the Americans an unbeatable 3-0 lead in the best-of-five playoff on temporary indoor clay court at Pat Rafter Arena.

Vandeweghe saved two breakpoints in the last game before closing with a service winner.

The U.S. traveled to Australia without its leading three singles players, with the Williams sisters and Sloane Stephens skipping the playoff and leaving No. 25-ranked Keys as the highest-ranked player on the team.

U.S. captain Mary Joe Fernandez said Keys' win in the opening singles match against Daria Gavrilova gave the Americans momentum, and Christina McHale's 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 win over Stosur on Saturday gave her team a 2-0 lead and a lot of confidence in the best-of-five-match playoff.

Vandeweghe combined with Bethanie Mattek-Sands to win the doubles 6-1, 6-4 over Australia's pair Gavrilova and Arina Rodionova after the second reverse singles match was scrapped.

''They all did their part. They all contributed,'' Fernandez said. ''I couldn't be more proud of each and every one of them.

''The more you put yourself in these positions, the more comfortable you get in them.''

For the second time in as many matches, former U.S. Open champion and French Open finalist Stosur melted down after winning the first set.

Surprise pick McHale beat Stosur 3-6, 6-1, 7-5 on Saturday to give the United States the crucial lead.

Vandeweghe was unsettled in the first set on Sunday, dropping serve twice, but picked up rhythm as the match progressed and exploited the tension evident in the must-win situation for Stosur.

''I knew that today it was do-or-die,'' Stosur said, ''but kind of every match on tour is like that - you don't win, you're out. It's just probably that little bit different because you're playing for your country rather than yourself.''

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