Defending champions France headline the inaugural Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas Finals to be held in Prague from 1-6 November, returning with Caroline Garcia, Alizé Cornet and Fiona Ferro from the squad that won the event in 2019 when the women’s team competition was still called the Fed Cup.
That final was played in Perth, Western Australia, where the hosts hopes were dashed in the very last rubber, but Australia will not be fielding their trump card, World No 1 Ash Barty, who has been omitted from the team nominations announced by the ITF on Monday.
Barty has only just returned home to Queensland after a gruelling 7 months on the road and is looking more unlikely to be defending her WTA Finals title in Guadalajara, Mexico from 10-17 November.
The women’s team competition was cancelled last year because of the global health crisis and subsequently revamped and renamed in honour of American trailblazer Billie Jean King.
Former US Open champion Sam Stosur, another Fed Cup stalwart, will also miss the BJK finals, with World No 47 Ajla Tomljanovic joined by Astra Sharma and Storm Sanders as well as debutants Ellen Perez and Olivia Gadecki in the Australian team.
“Ajla has had an incredible year and this is a great opportunity for her to lead the team,” Aussie captain Alicia Molik said in a news release. “Storm and Astra are both tremendous team players and it’s exciting to welcome Ellen and Olivia to the team for the first time.”
Australia will aim to top Group C in Prague where they play Belarus and Belgium.
The formidable Belarusian squad is anchored by former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka, with Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Olga Govortsova and Lidziya Marozava also in Tatiana Poutchek’s side along with new face Yuliya Hatouka, while Belgium also arrive with firepower, with Elise Mertens, Alison Van Uytvanck, Greet Minnen, Maryna Zanevska and Kirsten Flipkens named by Johan Van Herck.
The 57-player field features 3 current members of the world’s WTA top 10, 3 former World No 1s and 5 Grand Slam singles champions, all vying to lead their team to victory at the O2 Arena in Prague.
Grand Slam champions Garbiñe Muguruza, Sloane Stephens, Azarenka, Angelique Kerber and Barbora Krejcikova and US Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez are among those named for the 12 competing teams in Prague.
Hosts, the Czech Republic, will be led by 2021 French Open singles and doubles champion Krejcikova, who is joined by Marketa Vondrousova, the 2019 French Open runner-up and Tokyo Olympics singles silver medallist, and Katerina Siniakova, who was Krejcikova’s doubles partner for 3 Grand Slam doubles titles and a gold medal at the Summer Games, as well as debutant Tereza Martincova and former BJK Cup champion Lucie Hradecka.
The Czechs will be joined by Switzerland and Germany in Group D, a blockbuster trio of nations that could produce rematches of both the women’s singles and doubles Olympic finals.
Olympic singles champion Belinda Bencic defeated Vondrousova to win gold for Switzerland before she and Viktorija Golubic claimed silver in the doubles.
The Swiss duo are joined by Jil Teichmann and Stefanie Voegele, while Germany’s squad blends youth and experience as former World No 1 Kerber, Andrea Petkovic and Anna-Lena Friedsam are joined by Jule Niemeier and Nastasja Schunk, the youngest nominee for the Finals.
Defending champions France face stern opposition in Group A, with both Canada and Russian Tennis Federation (RTF) boasting 2 of the season’s Grand Slam finalists.
With Julien Benneteau as captain at the helm, Garcia, Cornet and Ferro are joined by former junior World No 1 Clara Burel and Kristina Mladenovic, who produced a star turn in the 2019 final and has called time on her 2021 season.
The Canadians will once again be led by Fernandez in Prague, little over a month after her spell-binding run to the US Open final, and captained by Sylvain Bruneau, who steps in for Heidi El Tabakh as she misses the Finals for personal reasons.
Joining Fernandez are Rebecca Marino, Francoise Abanda and Gabriela Dabrowski, while Igor Andreev’s RTF side features 5 top-50 players led by Roland Garros finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
The Olympic mixed doubles champion will be joined by Daria Kasatkina, Veronika Kudermetova, Ekaterina Alexandrova and competition debutant Liudmila Samsonova.
Muguruza is the leading light in a strong Spanish squad in Group C that features Paula Badosa, Sara Sorribes Tormo and Nuria Parrizas-Diaz and a final appearance from Carla Suarez Navarro, playing the last professional event of her career in Prague.
USA are the group’s top seeds, with captain Kathy Rinaldi turning to Jessica Pegula, Danielle Collins, Sloane Stephens, CoCo Vandeweghe and Caroline Dolehide, while Slovakia will be led by Anna Karolina Schmiedlova as Kristina Kucova, Viktoria Kuzmova, Rebecca Sramkova and Tereza Mihalikova round out Matej Liptak’s squad.
The Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas 2021 Finals will be held at the O2 Arena in Prague from 1-6 November.
The winners of each group will advance to the semi-finals for the chance to reach Saturday’s final, where the Billie Jean King Cup champions will be crowned.