Day 1 of the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers 18 nations battled it out for 9 spots in the November Finals, with USA, France, Spain, Italy, Romania, Kazakstan and the Czech Republic bounding out to a 2-0 lead over Austria, Great Britain, Mexico, Slovakia, Slovenia, Poland and Ukraine respectively, while the ties between Germany and Brazil, and Canada and Belgium are poised at 1-1 apiece.
Both Ukraine and Türkiye are going through very difficult times. Much like I am supporting the people of Ukraine, I would like to lend a hand to Turks as well. Therefore I have decided to donate all of the funds that I am due to receive from the ITF to represent my country during this qualifying tie. The money will directly help the Turkish population from regions that have been affected by the earthquake, especially local tennis players that have lost close to everything. Barbora Krejcikova
18-time winners USA were in ruthless mode in Delray Beach after the start of play was delayed due to the threat of lightning, with Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula dispatching their Austrian opponents for the loss of just 9 games between them.
Gauff, competing in her hometown, clinched a 6-1 6-3 victory against Austrian No 1 Julia Grabher, much to the delight of the vocal US fans.
“I feel almost protective of playing in my home country and protective of the flag,” Gauff said afterwards. “We always say home tie, but I don’t think it gets any more home than this.
“I was literally here last week practising. I train here, I was so happy when I found out it was going to be here. I was so nervous, but honestly, once I started on the court it all went away and I knew I just had one job.”
In the second rubber, Pegula, the World No 3, raced to take the opening set without the loss of a game against Sinja Kraus, but was made to work harder for the win in the second, needing 74 minutes to complete her 6-0 7-5 win.
“First set, I played how I wanted to – I wanted to feel my way into the match,” Pegula said. “She started playing some really good tennis, and I’m just proud of the way I played.
“I didn’t get frustrated there at the end and still stuck to my game and played aggressive.”
Between matches the competition’s namesake, Billie Jean King, presented compatriot Chris Evert with a Commitment Award.
Evert holds the record for the most titles in the history of the competition and is one of seven American women to have competed in the 20 ties required to qualify for a Commitment Award.
Pegula now goes into the second day of play, safe in the knowledge that one more win is all her team needs to book its place in the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup Finals.
Austrian Captain Marion Maruska praised her players, both of whom were competing against Top 10 players for the first time in their careers.
“I think my players have to play, point for point,” said Maruska. “You never know. Of course, it’s a tough situation for us. We’re down 2-0 and we’re playing against top players.
“I always tell them, you just play every point. We are a good team, you are a good player and just try to play your best and then maybe we have a chance.”
In Coventry, Caroline Garcia and Alizé Cornet led a spirited effort to win a combined 5 tiebreak sets to give France a 2-0 lead over Great Britain.
Garcia led off the day by coming back from 4-2 down in the final set to defeat Katie Boulter, 6-7(2) 7-6(4) 7-6(2), in a marathon match that nearly hit the 3-hour and 30-minute mark, while France’s No 2 Cornet followed up with her own clutch heroics, defeating Harriet Dart, 7-6(6) 7-6(3).
No 1 seeds Spain also took a 2-0 lead on home soil in Marbella, but without the loss of a set against Mexico.
Sara Sorribes Tormo, who returned from a 6-month injury layoff to reach the Bogota quarter-finals last week, continued her strong come-back form on clay when the World No 101 gave her team an opening lead with a 6-0 6-0 dismissal of Fernanda Contreras in just 67 minutes.
“It’s unbelievable to be back in the team and winning this first point for Spain playing home,” Sorribes Tormo said. “I’m pleased with my level and feeling goosebumps for giving the lead to Spain.”
Parrizas Diaz followed her lead with a 6-4 6-3 win over Renata Zarazua, albeit looking nervy on occasion while playing in front of friends and family, striking 33 unforced errors during the 94-minute contest.
“It was a little bit frustrating to see that I was in control of the points but then making mistakes,” said the World No 80. “It was key to winning that first set that I was always in the lead.
“I am delighted to have given a 2-0 lead to Spain playing home, with my family, and hopefully being able to close it off tomorrow and qualify to the BJK Finals.”
In Bratislava, Italy meant business and the 4-time champions head into the second day with a commanding 2-0 lead over hosts Slovakia.
World No 20 Martina Trevisan defeated Viktoria Hruncakova, 7-6(9) 6-3, in the second singles clash of the tie, building on the earlier victory of Camila Giorgi, who dispatched Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, 6-2 6-3.
“Tomorrow is another day to fight,” said Trevisan. “Of course, it is far better for us than for them but tonight we will do everything to make ourselves even more ready for tomorrow.
“It was a very tough match for me, but I knew it was going to be. She was serving very well, and I had a lot of chances in the first set to break her, but I didn’t. These things made me a little upset.
“There were difficult moments, but I am very happy to have come through those moments, like the tiebreak when I was 4-1 down. There was a lot of emotion because for me it is very important to bring the point to my team. The key was fighting hard.”
In Koper, Slovenia, a pair of 3-set victories for Ana Bogdan and Jaqueline Adina Cristian saw Romania open up their 2-0 lead against their hosts.
Bogdan, the World No 58, the highest-ranked player at the tie, recovered losing the first set and then fought back from 0-4 down in the final set of her match against Kaja Juvan, eventually triumphing 3-6 6-3 6-4 in 2 hours and 30 minutes.
With the momentum firmly in Romania’s favour, Cristian raced to an early lead over Tamara Zidansek, before the Slovenian No 1 hauled herself back into the contest and levelled the match at one set apiece, and it was Cristian who got the better of the decider, winning 4 consecutive games from 2-3 down to record a 6-1 4-6 6-3 victory.
“I’m very proud,” Romanian captain Horia Tecau said later. “Going into this meeting, we knew the conditions were going to be heavy and that the tennis was going to be slow at times.
“They were both fighting till the end and executing the plan. Today was was one of those days where attitude and effort and being positive and fighting came into play. And that’s what the team showed on court.”
It has been a week of squally showers in Koper, and while Bogdan’s clash with Juvan started in bright sunshine, the clouds soon gathered and the wind began to blow, slowing down the conditions.
In Astana, Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina and Yulia Putintseva won their matches against a Poland team missing injured World No 1 Iga Swiatek to put Kazakhstan 2-0 up.
Putintseva fought back from 4-0 down in the first set to dispatch Magda Linette, 7-5 6-3, on clay with World No 7 Rybakina seeing off Weronika Falkowska, 6-3 6-4.
Despite being clearly elated, in the immediate aftermath of victory Rybakina was quick to clarify an earlier suggestion that she and the rest of the Kazakhstan team would do a celebratory dance should they win this tie and reach the Finals.
“Well, I didn’t make such a promise,” she said. “I think it was about winning the women’s world cup of tennis should we get to the main stage. If we win there, of course we’ll have to dance!”
The Czech Republic went 2-0 up against Ukraine, when former French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova eased past Katarina Zavatska, 6-4 6-3, after 2019 French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova dispatched Marta Kostyuk, 6-2 6-1.
The matches are being played in the Turkish city of Antalya because of the war in Ukraine.
Krejcikova’s victory marked her first singles triumph for her country in the Billie Jean King Cup.
“It’s extremely special,” said the World No 12. “I’m very happy with the way I played, that I was able to convert the opportunities that I got. I’m very happy to win a match in Czech colours.”
Krejcikova also announced that she will donate all her Billie Jean King Cup funds to Türkiye, which is still recovering from a devastating earthquake in February.
“Both Ukraine and Türkiye are going through very difficult times,” she wrote on social media. “Much like I am supporting the people of Ukraine, I would like to lend a hand to Turks as well.
“Therefore I have decided to donate all of the funds that I am due to receive from the ITF to represent my country during this qualifying tie. The money will directly help the Turkish population from regions that have been affected by the earthquake, especially local tennis players that have lost close to everything.”
Meanwhile, a pair of thrilling 3-setters saw hosts Germany draw even with Brazil, after Beatriz Haddad Maia hauled herself back from an opening set deficit against World No 91 Friedsam with a come-from-behind 3-6 6-4 6-3 win.
“I was happy to win,” said Haddad Maia, whose nation are bidding to reach the Billie Jean King Cup Finals for the first time. “It is special to play for my country and also for South America. We know that Billie Jean King Cup week is a special and everybody is giving 100 per cent.
“I know there are a lot of people from Brazil cheering on the girls here. I think Brazil is having special moment in women’s tennis and I was fighting for every point. A lot of our fans may be at the opposite side of the world, but we can feel their energy.”
Then, staring down the barrel of defeat, Tatjana Maria produced a special fight-back against Laura Pigossi to revive Germany’s hopes, after the Brazilian served for the match at 5-4 in the third set.
Teetering on the edge, the 35-year-old German dug deep and produced a stunning come-back to take the tie’s second singles rubber, 6-3 3-6 7-5, levelling the Qualifier in Stuttgart.
“I feel really relieved, and I am so happy to win this match for the team,” said Maria. “It was such an important match for us. To go home now at 1-1 rather than 0-2, it changes a lot for us. We are such a great team, and I was fighting for every single point for the team.
“Laura played great tennis. I knew that I had to play great tennis against her because she doesn’t miss a lot. I knew I needed to be aggressive. In the end I had to go for it, and I am really proud of myself that I was aggressive and took the game to her.”
In Vancouver, Canada and Belgium also go into the Day 2 level, after Leylah Fernandez was in fine form putting away Yanina Wickmayer, 6-0 6-3, in a little over an hour.
“It means a lot to me [to start the tie with a positive performance],” she said. “Belgium are a super tough team and to get the win was very important for us to start off the weekend. I’m glad I was able to perform well and help my team as much as possible.”
In the second match, it looked like home favourite Rebecca Marino could put the hosts in front 2-0 when she was a set and 4-1 up with a break in the second set, but Ysaline Bonaventure refused to go down without a fight, and the Belgian battled back thanks to some wise words from new skipper Wim Fissette.
“I had so many break points from the beginning of the match,” Bonaventure explained. “The captain told me you have to be patient, your opportunity will come. I am so proud to bring the point to my team.
“I kept playing my game, bringing as many balls back as I could. I believed in myself, and it ended up well.”
Watching the Qualifiers on sidelines with interest are defending champions Switzerland and 2022 runners-up Australia, who receive direct entry into the BJK Cup Finals from 7-12 November, which will feature 4 groups of 3, while a wild card nation will complete the line-up along with the 9 qualifiers from this weekend.