London | Preview: BJK Cup Qualifiers to see top class action

The WTA Tour takes a breather this week as the Billie Jean King Cup takes centre stage and players scatter around the globe to represent their countries in either Qualifiers or Group ties.

The French side will present a significant challenge, as always, but we all know how representing GB inspires us and, each year, we are getting stronger and better as a team. Anne Keothavong, Great Britain's Billie Jean King Cup team captain

Formerly known as the Federation Cup at its launch in 1963 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the International Tennis Federation, the women’s team competition was renamed the Fed Cup in 1995, until 2020, when it was rebranded the Billie Jean King Cup.

The event is open to all nations, with a record 132 national competing in 2023.

The Qualifiers take place on 12-13 April and feature the 16 teams vying for 8 places in November’s season-ending BJK Cup Finals in Seville.

Last year’s finalists, Canada and Italy, the Finals hosts, Spain, and wild-card nation Czechia earn automatic entry into this year’s Finals, while teams that do not compete at the Qualifiers can earn a chance for promotion via regional competitions.

The team nominations were announced in March, signalling the participation of World No 1 Iga Swiatek, No 5 Jessica Pegula, former No 1s Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep, as well as national heroes such as Elina Svitolina, Beatriz Haddad Maia, Caroline Garcia and Emma Raducanu, amongst others.

For a full list of nominations click HERE.

2024 Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers are:

  • Australia vs. Mexico, in Brisbane, Australia, on outdoor hard court
  • Switzerland vs. Poland, in Biel, Switzerland, on indoor hard
  • France vs. Great Britain, in Le Portel, France, on indoor clay
  • USA vs. Belgium, in Orlando, USA, on outdoor hard
  • Japan vs. Kazakhstan, in Tokyo, Japan, on indoor hard
  • Brazil vs. Germany, in São Paolo, Brazil, on indoor clay
  • Slovakia vs. Slovenia, in Bratislava, Slovakia, on indoor hard
  • Ukraine vs. Romania, in Ferdinanda Beach, USA, on outdoor clay

Team GB is fielding Katie Boulter, Harriet Dart, Heather Watson, Emma Raducanu and Fran Jones against France

LTA.org.uk

France hosts Great Britain at Le Chaudron, in a tie that sees two familiar foes going head-to-head in Le Portel.

The hosts, who are looking to complete back-to-back Qualifiers victories over Team GB, have named a strong side, full of experience and youth, led by Caroline Garcia, alongside Clara Burel, Diane Parry and Kristina Mladenovic.

Britain’s Captain, Anne Keothavong, has named her strongest available squad for the trip over the English Channel, with World No 27 Katie Boulter leading the charge, joined by Harriet Dart, Heather Watson and Emma Raducanu, while Fran Jones is a late addition.

Keothavong won 22 matches during her playing career in the Billie Jean King Cup, and she has overseen some thrilling ties since taking over as team captain in 2017.

The run to the 2022 semi-finals was a highlight for Keothavong, and heading into this re-match with France, she will be encouraged by the form of her top-ranked player Boulter, who this year has broken into the Top 30 of the WTA Rankings for the first time in her career.

Raducanu’s appearance in the Great Britain team ensures there is plenty of focus on this tie, with the 2021 US Open champion set to make only her second appearance for her country.

The 21-year-old’s WTA ranking has slipped over the last year, as she missed most of 2023 after undergoing surgery on both wrists and her ankle, but Raducanu has served up some encouraging performances since returning to action at the start of this year.

Adding consistency to her promise may depend on her fitness levels, and she has been struggling once again in recent weeks, and was forced to pull out of last month’s Miami Open due to a back problem.

There also may be some concern over the bandage around her calf, though, as she provided some serving tips on a recent LTA social media post wearing Great Britain’s Billie Jean King Cup kit.

She has played just 11 matches on the WTA Tour, and another LTA video showed her practising her sliding on the clay while training at the National Tennis Centre in London.

“I do love moving on clay, sliding, I find it very fun. It’s interesting, I think it’s different,” says Raducanu. “It’s not necessarily the surface that I’m most comfortable on, or my most preferred surface, but it’s something that I enjoy the challenge of.”

Keothavong remains confident that Raducanu can play a full part in the strong team heading to France.

“The French side will present a significant challenge, as always, but we all know how representing GB inspires us and, each year, we are getting stronger and better as a team,” said Keothavong.


World No 1 Iga Swiatek leads Poland against Switzerland in Biel

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Switzerland and Poland go head-to-head for a 3rd time, with the Poles having come out on top the last time the two sides met in 2015.

Heinz Guenthardt will be without his tried and tested No 1 Belinda Bencic, who is taking time away from the game as she waits to welcome her first child.

In her stead, Viktorija Golubic, Celine Naef, Simona Waltert and Jil Teichmann will be looking to replicate the form that saw them crowned champions just 2 years ago in Glasgow.

Swiatek has been named to the Polish team, and will be looking to improve on her 5-match win streak in singles as she competes in her country’s colours for the first time since 2022.

Having last lost in the competition in 2019, Swiatek is joined by Magdalena Frech, Magda Linette, Katarzyna Kawa and Maja Chwalinska.

Down Under, Australia’s new skipper Sam Stosur has recalled Arina Rodionova, who rejoins the team for the first time since 2017, and will be joined by Daria Saville, Storm Hunter, Taylah Preston plus doubles specialist Ellen Perez.

Their opponents, Mexico, is led by Fernanda Contreras with support in singles from Marcela Zacarias and Fernanda Navarro, while doubles specialist Giuliana Olmos completes the team.


World No 5 Jessica Pegula leads a strong USA team against Belgium in Orlando

© Elsa/Getty Images

Although USA is without Coco Gauff, the home team has enough strength in depth to look like formidable foes for the visiting Belgian side.

New US captain Lindsay Davenport fields Jessica Pegula, Madison Keys and the in-form Emma Navarro, who will all be pushing for singles places, while Taylor Townsend and Caroline Dolehide are likely contenders for doubles.

Belgium’s Sofia Costoulas, Hanne Vandewinkel, Marie Benoit and Kimberley Zimmermann will have to pull off a serious upset to derail the Americans on home soil.

Former World No 1 Naomi Osaka returns to the competition for the first time since becoming a mother, having last competed in Japan’s colours in February 2020.

At the Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo, she will be joined by Nao Hibino, Mai Hontama, Ena Shibahara and Shuko Aoyama against Kazakhstan, who are without their talisman, Elena Rybakina, but will still prove more than a handful with Yulia Putintseva, Zhibek Kulambayeva, Aruzhan Sagandikova, Anna Danilina and Zarina Diyas.

In São Paulo, Brazil and German know each other well, having played in last year’s Qualifiers, but the hosts are hoping that their home advantage pays dividends this time round.

Beatriz Haddad Maia spearheads the hosts’ attack, with support from Laura Pigossi, Carolina Alves, Luisa Stefani and Ingrid Martins.

The German team features another World No 1 returning as a mother, with Angelique Kerber part of her country’s side for the first time since April 2022, alongside Tatjana Maria, Laura Siegemund and Anna-Lena Friedsam.

Slovakia fields a full-strength home team looking to secure a spot in the BJK Cup Finals for the first time since 2022, when they take on Slovenia.

Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, Rebecca Sramkova, Viktoria Hruncakova, Renata Jamrichova and Tereza Mihalikova is a tried and tested line-up for long-time Slovakian skipper Matej Liptak.

Slovenia, who stunned everyone by reaching the semi-finals at last year’s BJK Cup Finals in Seville, will be missing one of their key players in the shape of Kaja Juvan, who hasn’t played since the Australian Open in January.

Tamara Zidansek, Veronika Erjavec, Pia Lovric, Nina Potocnik and Ela Nala Milic will instead try to emulate last season’s form.


Elina Svitolina's Foundation is staging Ukraine's tie against Romania on neutral ground in Ferdinanda Beach, Florida

© Elsa/Getty Images

Ukraine and Romania are going head-to-head on neutral ground, and the Ukrainians, as hosts, will be looking to score a first win against Romania in more than 20 years.

Elina Svitolina, whose Foundation is actually staging the event, will spearhead a line-up that also includes Lesia Tsurenko, Liudmyla Kichenok, Nadiia Kichenok and Yuliia Starodubtseva.

Romania’s line-up is notable for the inclusion of Simona Halep, who returned to the tour at the Miami Open following her suspension, and had not played since the 2022 US Open.

Halep has been named alongside Ana Bogdan, Jaqueline Cristian, Anca Todoni and Mara Gae.

The women’s tour resumes with the start of the European clay season, when, after this weekend’s BJ Cup action, the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany, a WTA 500 event, and Open Capfinances Rouen Métropole in Rouen, France, a WTA 250 event, kick off on Monday, 15 April.

These events will be followed by the first WTA 1000 of the clay season at the Mutua Madrid Open, which begins on 23 April.


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