Great Britain’s quest for a place in the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in November came down to a deciding doubles against the Czech Republic, which Harriet Dart & Katie Swan narrowly lost, while the USA was also pushed all the way by Ukraine but joined Canada, Italy, Kazakhstan, Poland and Spain in the championship event, who all enjoyed comfortable victories, with their ties decided after just 3 matches.
I see a lot of potential. There has been a really good team spirit among all the players this week, and I am excited with what I have got to work with. I hope they are all part of the team in the years to come. The fact that we took it all the way down to the deciding rubber just shows how much guts and courage the players had today. Overall we came close but fell short. Anne Keothavong
The 7 winning teams advance to the Finals, which will be played on 8-13 November 2022 at a venue to be announced, combining with 2021 runners-up Switzerland, Australia, Belgium and Slovakia.
Team GB, however, is among the 7 losing nations from the Qualifiers, who will compete in the Play-offs on 11-12 November alongside France, Germany, Latvia, Netherlands, Romania and Ukraine, joined by the nations that have won promotion from this week’s 3 regional Group I events.
Britain went into Saturday tied at 1-1 with the Czechs, but hopes that Emma Raducanu could up-end clay court specialist Marketa Vondrousova were quickly dashed when the World No 12 was dispatched, 6-1 6-1, in just 53 minutes.
The 22 Czech demonstrated all her prowess on the cold outdoor clay court, bringing out the huge variety in her game and a deftness of touch that over-powered Raducanu on this occasion.
It was the left-hander’s 2nd singles match-win of the tie and, combined with her later doubles triumph, meant a huge amount to the Olympic silver medallist, playing at the Czech Lawn Tennis Club, which is situated on Stvanice Island amid the Vltava River in Prague.
“This is my home club and I am just so happy with the win and my own performances this week, especially with having so many people, here, supporting me,” Vondrousova said. “I started to practice here when I was seven or eight years old, so it is a really long time.
“From 15, I lived here for a year and had an apartment, so it is such a nice feeling to have won.”
It was a reality check for Raducanu, the 19-year old from Bromley, though, and later the British No 1 admitted that she was suffering an issue with her feet, struggling with blisters that severely hampered her movement.
After her impressive debut on Friday, winning 7-5 7-5 over the way more experienced Tereza Martincova, clinching a crucial point for Britain, Raducanu could not produce the same form against the 2019 French Open and Olympic finalist.
The US Open champion was limping, unable to chase down balls, and needed an off-court medical time-out after the first set.
The 19-year-old admitted to feeling ‘completely redundant and helpless’ against the World No 32, who Raducanu had beaten at Wimbledon while ranked 338 in her Grand Slam debut last year.
“It kind of showed up after yesterday’s match,” Raducanu said. “We’ve been managing it but, as you saw, I couldn’t really move or load either way, and now it’s just about trying to get it better as soon as possible.
“It was compromising every shot I had to play. It’s very disappointing when you’re out there playing a rubber for your country and you feel completely redundant.”
Raducanu has been blighted by fitness issues since her extraordinary run to victory at the US Open in September, with severe blistering on her right hand leading to defeat in the 2nd round of the Australian Open before retiring from her first-round match at the Guadalajara Open with a hip injury, and blaming an early loss at the Miami Open on a stiff back.
“I’ve had a few blisters on my feet before,” she continued. “I’m going to need to go and evaluate all my options. This has happened quite a few times now, and we need to nip it in the bud.
“Of course it’s frustrating but, in some sort of twisted way, it gives me a sense of confidence and relief that I don’t think it’s my tennis that’s the issue.
“As soon as I sort all of these out, and keep building on my tennis level then, I think, I’ll be able to put out good matches back to back.”
The Czech Republic looked set to win the tie, but Harriet Dart stepped up against 16-year-old rookie Linda Fruhvirtova with an emphatic 6-0 5-7 6-2 win to put Team GB back into contention, but the underdogs were unable to pull off a shock in the deciding doubles rubber, with Dart & Swan losing 6-1 7-5 to Vondrousova & Karolína Muchova.
At the age of 16 years and 350 days, Prague-born Fruhvirtova is the youngest Czech player to compete in BJK Cup since Nicole Vaidisova in 2005 but, despite her tender years, she already is making an impact on tour in reaching the round of 16 at the Miami Open, while her defeat of World No 62 Ana Konjuh there was her 5th against a top 100 opponent.
She was, however, well mauled in the first set by Dart, who took just 29 minutes to bag it, but the young Czech then recovered to force the match into a decider third after saving 2 match points before eventually going down.
“It was unbelievable to make my Billie Jean King Cup debut and to play in front of the Czech crowd, which is known to be one of the best crowds in the sport,” said Fruhvirtova. “It was a wonderful experience and I was so thankful to get the opportunity.”
Praise, however, belongs to Dart, who showed great resolve after the disappointment of being brushed aside by Vondrousova in the tie’s opening match on Friday.
Dart’s efforts maintained her nation’s interest in the tie, although Vondrousova & Muchova ultimately proved too strong for her and Swan in the doubles, winning through 6-1 7-5 after a late come-back rally to 5-5.
“I see a lot of potential,” said Britain’s captain Anne Keothavong. “There has been a really good team spirit among all the players this week, and I am excited with what I have got to work with.
“I hope they are all part of the team in the years to come.
“The fact that we took it all the way down to the deciding rubber just shows how much guts and courage the players had today.
“Overall we came close but fell short.
“It does take time for a player to get used to life on the tour, and become more robust, and she certainly needs to become more robust,” Keothavong added about Raducanu. “I don’t think that’s any secret and she’s working on it.
“The more she puts herself out there, the more she continues to test herself against the very best, she’ll figure out a way that works for her.”
The Czechs have won the title 6 times since 2011, and the team’s captain Petr Pala said: “I am pleased and delighted.
“It was a tough tie and when they go to the deciding doubles anything can happen, but we managed to get through, and I am relieved and happy.
“In terms of celebrating, Marie [Vondrousova] is already on the way to the airport and Tereza [Martincova] is flying tomorrow, but I think we are going to go for dinner.
“Everybody is very tired, but we will go for dinner. It will not be a huge party, but it is going to be a happy party.”
Meanwhile, Team USA came into Saturday’s action 2-0 up but then were pushed all the way in Asheville, North Carolina, as Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska and Katarina Zavatska both scored upsets in the reverse singles to force a live doubles.
Kathy Rinaldi’s selection of Jessica Pegula & Asia Muhammad proved an inspired one as they found a way past Lyudmyla Kichenok & Yastremska to seal a memorable tie, 3-2.
“I will never forget this moment,” said Billie Jean King Cup debutant Muhammad after the match. “[My call-up to the team] was really, really last-minute.
“I was so nervous in the first set. I wasn’t really expecting to play today, but I’m happy we were able to clinch it.
“The support of our team was amazing and to be able to look at them and feel them riding every single point with us helped a lot.”
Yastremska had kept her team alive with an impressive 6-3 6-4 victory over Pegula in the battle of the No 1 singles players.
The Ukrainian fired 16 winners compared to her opponent’s 3 and, with Pegula only converting 1 of 9 break point chances, the American could not find a way to seal the tie in the 3rd match.
Draped in her country’s flag, Yastremska said: “Today I was more relaxed. I was just fighting. I felt a little bit of pressure because it was an important win, so I just gave it my all.
“I’ve always been proud of my country and I’ve always been proud I’m Ukrainian and I always like to represent my country, but now, in this moment, it’s tough to describe it.
“My heart stays at home and I really want to go back there, but my mind is here, and I have to play.
“I have a responsibility on my sister. It’s just super nice to be in a safe place here, and to play in that amazing crowd, with that great support. It’s nice to see the Ukrainian flags everywhere.”
Buoyed by her team-mate’s victory, Zavatska produced one of the best matches of her life to notch up her first career win against a Top 50 player when she overcame World No 46 Shelby Rogers, 6-3 6-4.
“I cannot believe that I made it!” said a shocked Zavatska after the match. “It was such a good match.
“I was in the zone completely. Shelby, she played well. Today I was really into it, fighting like crazy putting my legs compared to yesterday, and I just had all the energy from the crowd supporting me.
“They brought me so many emotions, it felt like all the stadium was for me even though we’re in the USA. It felt like such a big support for the first time in my life.”
Both captains made changes to their nominated doubles duos, Rinaldi bringing back Pegula to partner Muhammad in a complete line-up change, while Ukrainian skipper Olga Savchuk split the Kichenok twins to ensure that Yastremska had her chance to make one more impact on this match.
It was the American duo that first moved ahead in the match, consolidating a break in the 6th game to edge ahead 4-2, but the Ukrainian pair broke back at 5-5 and forced an opening set tiebreak, which proved a tense affair.
A double-fault off the racket of Kichenok handed the US team the first set and, in the second, Pegula & Muhammad never looked troubled as they clinched the match, 7-6(5) 6-3.
US captain Rinaldi said: “I am incredibly proud of the team. I couldn’t ask for more.
“Congratulations to the Ukrainian team. They brought it. It was incredible tennis today from them. They have to be incredibly proud of themselves and their team, but these two [Muhammad & Pegula] brought it in the doubles and closed it. I am super proud.”
Elsewhere, World No 1 Iga Swiatek powered Poland into the Finals for the first time, swatting aside Romania’s Andreea Prisacariu, 6-0 6-0, in just 52 minutes to extend her current singles winning streak to 19.
“It took us a few years, step by step, to progress and qualify finally,” the 20-year-old Swiatek said in her on-court interview. “Hopefully, in the finals, we’re going to show even more progress. I’m really proud of us.”
Swiatek’s victory made it 3-0 for Poland in the best-of-5 qualifier, after the 2020 French Open champion beat Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-1 6-0 on Friday.
Italy and Kazakhstan also advanced, with Camila Giorgi beating Harmony Tan of France, 6-2 6-0, to give the Italians their 3rd straight win, while Elena Rybakina made it 3 in a row for Kazakhstan over Germany by beating Angelique Kerber, 4-6 6-3 7-5.
2022 Billie Jean King Cup By BNP Paribas Qualifiers
Italy defeated France 3-1
Venue: Tennis Club Alghero, Alghero (hard, outdoors)
- Jasmine Paolini (ITA) d. Alize Cornet (FRA) 2-6 6-1 7-6(2)
- Camila Giorgi (ITA) d. Oceane Dodin (FRA) 6-1 6-2
- Camila Giorgi (ITA) d. Harmony Tan (FRA) 6-2 6-0
- Jasmine Paolini (ITA) v Oceane Dodin (FRA) – not played
- Oceane/Kristina Mladenovic (FRA) d. Lucia Bronzetti/Martina Trevisan (ITA) 7-6(4) 6-1
USA defeated Ukraine 3-2
Venue: Harrah’s Cherokee Center, Asheville, NC (hard, indoors)
- Alison Riske (USA) d. Dayana Yastremska (UKR) 7-6(16) 7-5
- Jessica Pegula (USA) d. Katarina Zavatska (UKR) 6-2 6-1
- Dayana Yastremska (UKR) d. Jessica Pegula (USA) 6-3 6-4
- Katarina Zavatska (UKR) d. Shelby Rogers (USA) 6-3 6-4
- Asia Muhammad/Jessica Pegula (USA) d. Lyudmyla Kichenok/Dayana Yastremska (UKR) 7-6(5) 6-3
Czech Republic defeated Great Britain 3-2
Venue: Tennis Club I.CLTK Prague, Prague (clay, outdoors)
- Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) d. Harriet Dart (GBR) 6-1 6-0
- Emma Raducanu (GBR) d. Tereza Martincova (CZE) 7-5 7-5
- Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) d. Emma Raducanu (GBR) 6-1 6-1
- Harriet Dart (GBR) d. Linda Fruhvirtova (CZE) 6-0 5-7 6-2
- Karolina Muchova/Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) d. Harriet Dart/Katie Swan (GBR) 6-1 7-5
Kazakhstan defeated Germany 3-1
Venue: National Tennis Centre, Nur-Sultan (hard, indoors)
- Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) d. Angelique Kerber (GER) 3-6 6-3 6-2
- Elena Rybakina (KAZ) d. Laura Siegemund (GER) 6-0 6-1
- Elena Rybakina (KAZ) d. Angelique Kerber (GER) 4-6 6-3 7-5
- Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) v Laura Siegemund (GER) – not played
- Anna-Lena Friedsam/Jule Niemeier (GER) d. Anna Danilina/Zhibek Kulumbayeva (KAZ) 6-2 3-6 [10-6]
Canada defeated Latvia 4-0
Venue: Pacific Coliseum, Vancouver (hard, indoors)
- Leylah Fernandez (CAN) d. Darja Semenistaja (LAT) 6-1 6-2
- Rebecca Marino (CAN) d. Daniela Vismane (LAT) 6-3 6-7 (4) 6-3
- Leylah Fernandez (CAN) d. Daniela Vismane (LAT) 6-2 6-1
- Rebecca Marino (CAN) v Darja Semenistaja (LAT) – not played
- Gabriela Dabrowski/Carol Zhao (CAN) d. Darja Semenistaja/Daniela Vismane (CAN) 6-1 6-3
Spain defeated Netherlands 4-0
Venue: Maaspoort Sports & Events, s-Hertogenbosch (clay, indoors)
- Nuria Parrizas-Diaz (ESP) d. Arantxa Rus (NED) 6-2 7-6(4)
- Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP) d. Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove (NED) 6-4 6-3
- Arantxa Rus (NED) v Sara Sorribes Tormo (ESP)
- Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove (NED) v Nuria Parrizas-Diaz (ESP) – not played
- Aliona Bolsova/Rebeka Masarova (ESP) d. Arianne Hartono/Demi Schuurs (NED) 4-6 7-6(7) [10-7]
Poland defeated Romania 4-0
Venue: Radomskie Centrum Sportu, Radom (hard, indoors)
- Magda Linette (POL) d. Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU) 6-1 4-6 6-2
- Iga Swiatek (POL) d. Mihaela Buzarnescu (ROU) 6-1 6-0
- Iga Swiatek (POL) d. Andreea Prisacariu (ROU) 6-0 6-0
- Magda Linette (POL) v Mihaela Buzarnescu (ROU) – not played
- Magdalena Frech/Alicja Rosolska (POL) d. Mihaela Buzarnescu/Andreea Mitu (ROU) 5-7 6-3 [10-5]