The Billie Jean King Cup continues to suffer from the withdrawal of its top-draw players, the latest being the World No 3 Paula Badosa, Danielle Collins, ranked 8, and Jelena Ostapenko, the No 11.
It is really exciting. I am really glad that I have this opportunity to be on the team. It is my first time nominated and I am really excited to see what this week brings. I watched many Billie Jean King Cup matches and finals in the past. I watched the final here a few years ago [at the O2 Arena versus USA in 2018] and it was so exciting to see the atmosphere, and to watch it closely. It is amazing to be on the team now, just a few years after watching it in the stadium as a fan, or from my living room. I was also born in Prague and live here, so it is a very special place for my first nomination. Linda Fruhvirtova
Still headlined by World No 1 Iga Swiatek, the next best ranked player among the 14 nations competing in the Qualifiers for a place in the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in November, is Britain’s Emma Raducanu at No 12.
Great Britain face the Czech Republic on 15-16 April on the clay in Prague, who have replaced Katerina Siniakova in their squad with teenage sensation Linda Fruhvirtova.
Under BJK Cup rules, however, the captain is able to make up to a maximum of 3 changes to the team line-up until one hour prior to the official draw deadline on Thursday 14 April.
Badosa pulled out of Spain’s Qualifiers tie against the Netherlands citing ‘recent physical and medical problems’ as the reason for her withdrawal.
“It is not an easy decision, who knows me knows how complicated it is for me not to be in a competition, and I was especially looking forward to this one,” Badosa stated. “But advised by my medical team and due to physical and medical problems with which I have had to compete in recent weeks, I will be out of the call for the BJK Cup.”
Despite her absence, Badosa added that, from afar, she will be rooting for her team to get the job done and clinch a ticket for the Billie Jean King Cup Finals.
“I will be cheering on my teammates in the distance with the desire to compete side by side with them in the next call,” she said.
Badosa last played in Charleston, where she was beaten in the quarter-final by Belinda Bencic, 2-6 7-6(2) 6-4, after seemingly having been in full control of the match when she was leading by a set and a break before the Swiss recovered to outlast her.
“It was a big fight,” Bencic said after the match. “I’m just going to try to recover. But I’m happy with the way I played, with the way I fought, and I’m happy to get another match here.”
The now considerably depleted Spaniards, ranked 10th among BJK Cup nations but are without Garbiñe Muguruza, are now depending on Sara Sorribes Tormo, ranked 49, Nuria Parrizas-Diaz (55), Rebeka Masarova (132) and Aliona Bolsova (211) to get them past a Dutch team fielding Arantxa Rus (74), Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove (141), Arianne Hartono (166), Suzan Lamens (182) and doubles specialist Demis Schuurs (D 19).
Meanwhile, Collins, who withdrew from Charleston with a neck issue that had hampered her play at the Miami Open where she lost 6-2 6-1 to Naomi Osaka, unsurprisingly, has pulled out of Team USA’s tie against the Ukraine, clearly still not fully fit.
The Americans still have a team strong enough to defeat the Ukrainians at home, led now by Jessica Pegula, ranked 14, with Alison Riske (43), Shelby Rogers (46), Asia Muhammad (169) and doubles specialist Desirae Krawczyk (D 21) alongside, while their opponents field Dayana Yastremska (93), Katerina Zavatska (201), and twin sisters Lyudmyla and Nadiia Kichenok, ranked 38 and 43 in doubles respectively.
Ostapenko has not made the trip to Vancouver either, for Latvia’s tie against Canada, due to a wrist injury she sustained in Miami, and her absence has much improved the hosts chances of reaching the BJK Cup final in November.
The world rankings show Canada and Latvia as ranked 10th and 12th respectively, and a heated battle was expected, but the withdrawal of the 2017 French Open champion leaves the visitors badly depleted, now led by 21-year old Daniela Vismane (267) and Diana Marcinkevica (281).
“We have just learned of Ostapenko’s withdrawal, but it does not change our preparations and our state of mind,” said Canada captain Heidi El Tabakh.
Canadians Leylah Fernandez, ranked 21, Rebecca Marino (111), Carol Zha0 (285), Francoise Abanda (471) and doubles No 9 Gabriela Dabrowski will not be taking the tie for granted though.
“The [fans] had a right to a good duel, but these are things that happen in tennis. Young people play without fear and have nothing to lose. They should not be taken lightly,” El Tabakh continued.
Elsewhere, 16-year old Fruhvirtova has been called into the Czech Republic squad for their home tie with Great Britain, making her debut after being drafted in when Katerina Siniakova withdrew through injury.
“It is really exciting,” she said. “I am really glad that I have this opportunity to be on the team.
“It is my first time nominated and I am really excited to see what this week brings.
“I watched many Billie Jean King Cup matches and finals in the past. I watched the final here a few years ago [at the O2 Arena versus USA in 2018] and it was so exciting to see the atmosphere, and to watch it closely.
“It is amazing to be on the team now, just a few years after watching it in the stadium as a fan, or from my living room.
“I was also born in Prague and live here, so it is a very special place for my first nomination.”
The Czechs have built something of a Billie Jean King Cup dynasty, having topped the podium on 6 occasions since 2011.
The ascent of Fruhvirtova has been rapid as only 3 years ago she was competing at, and winning, Les Petits As, the prestigious junior tournament held in Tarbes, France for those aged 14 and under.
Months later, she was triumphing in national team colours alongside her younger sister Brenda and Nikola Bartunkova at the ITF World Junior Tennis Finals in Prostejov, where she was described by captain Tomas Josefus as ‘a Pit Bull from the baseline’.
Now, the young Czech is ranked 170 in the world, and finding her way in the WTA Tour.
“You can feel the age difference, and that I am new [to the WTA Tour], but I think the players have started to know me, and I have started to know them,” she said. “I am getting there but, at times, I am playing against girls 10 years older than me.
“There are also many young players now in the top 100. When you start playing on the tour, you can think they’re 25 and have so much experience, but really it is just player against player.
“I also think, even the matches you lose, it is very important in a player’s career to use the phrase, ‘you win, or you learn’, because if you learn from losses, that can be a win also.”
There is a further mantra which Fruhvirtova believes has characterised her fledgling career, which bodes extremely well as she prepares for yet another significant milestone on the pathway to possible stardom.
“I never give up,” she said. “I love competing and, from a young age, I was the one going for the point, and going for it. I never give up, and will always fight for every point.”
The Czechs are led by Marketa Vondrousova, ranked 32, with Tereza Martincova (50) and Karolina Muchova (66) completing the strong team alongside Fruhvirtova, while Raducanu (12), also making her BJK Cup debut, headlines the Brits together with Harriet Dart (101), Katie Swan (221) and Sonay Kartal (370), who have uphill battle on their hands.
Whatever happens, it will be an intriguing week in Prague.
Streaming of all 7 ties in the Qualifiers is available on the Billie Jean King Cup Live Centre, and will be broadcast live on BBC digital channels and the LTA’s official TikTok, while fans can also get the best behind-the-scenes access by signing up to Advantage.