Billie Jean King drew the 18 nations competing in the 9 home-and-away ties of the 2022 Qualifiers on 15-16 April out of the 50-year old Federation Cup Trophy in Prague on Saturday, assigning Great Britain an away tie against the Czech Republic.
I thought we had amazing crowds, especially when the Czechs played. I was amazed we had any people, if you look at most tournaments. Billie Jean King
The competition has recently been rebranded in Billie Jean King’s honour, and the American was on hand as its ambassador to witness its new format in action as the 2021 edition reached its climax in the final between the Russian Tennis Federation (RTF) and Switzerland that followed the draw.
Team GB will need to beat the Czech Republic away to qualify for next year’s finals, and Anne Keothavong’s team face a tough task.
The Czech Republic has won the competition 11 times since 1963, 6 of these in the last 9 editions, and can call on the likes of Karolina Pliskova, Barbora Krejcikova, Marketa Vondrousova, Katarina Siniakova and Petra Kvitova, while Great Britain has never won the trophy but are 4-time runners-up, the last time being in 1981.
Britain’s highest-ranked player, US Open champion Emma Raducanu, has previously been a hitting partner for the team, but the 19-year old will be expected to make her playing debut alongside stalwarts Johanna Konta, Heather Watson and Katie Boulter.
Boulter’s heroics helped put Great Britain back into the World Group in 2019, and she was pivotal in the victory over Mexico in the play-offs in April, winning both of her singles matches.
“The team are really looking forward to taking on Czech Republic in our 2022 qualifier and, hopefully, continuing our momentum in the Billie Jean King Cup next year,” Keothavong told skysports.com, referring to GB’s win over Mexico.
The Czechs hosted this year’s finals, but fell at the semi-final stage after losing a tight match to Switzerland.
The 2022 Qualifiers will feature the 10 nations which finished in 3rd-12th place at the 2021 Finals, and the 8 winning nations from the 2021 Play-offs, including Romania, the highest-ranked losing nation from the Play-offs.
By reaching the final in Prague this week, RTF and Switzerland qualified automatically for the 2022 Finals, which will take place from 8-13 November at a venue to be announced in January, with the host nation guaranteed a place.
The 9 winning nations in the Qualifiers will advance to the 2022 Finals, while the 9 losing nations will compete in the 2022 Play-offs.
2022 Qualifiers Draw
Australia (c) v Slovakia
Italy (c) v France
USA (c) v Ukraine
Czech Republic (c)* v Great Britain
Belarus (c)* v Belgium
Kazakhstan (c)* v Germany
Canada (c)* v Latvia
Netherlands (c)* v Spain
Poland (c)* v Romania
Seeds in bold / (c) = choice of ground / * = choice of ground decided by lot(s)
2022 Competition Dates
- w/c 11 April: Regional Group I events (Americas, Asia/Oceania, Europe/Africa)
- 15-16 April: Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers
- 8-13 November: Billie Jean King Cup Finals
- 11-12 November: Billie Jean King Cup Play-offs
The new-look finals held for the first time this week in Prague are generally deemed to have been a success, but although ITF chief David Haggerty hailed the event as an ‘outstanding week of tennis’, many players and fans were left with mixed feelings.
Only 5 Top 20 players took part and many big names were missing, including Australian Ash Barty, Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and Czech Karolina Pliskova, the World’s Top 3 at the start of the week.
With the season-ending championships contested by the top 8 singles players and doubles teams on the Porsche Race to the WTA Finals starting on Wednesday in Mexico, most of the qualified players decided to skip the women’s team event in Prague, other than Czech Barbora Krejcikova, who was ranked 4.
Both the Billie Jean King Cup and the WTA Finals did not confirm their dates and venues until late in the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year, unfortunately, we were right up against Guadalajara, which was a last-minute thing as well,” King told reporters in Prague, adding that players were ‘grateful’ to even have the team competition in 2021.
“I know Dave [ITF President Haggerty], they talk to the WTA all the time about the schedule.”
Ties often ended late at night and some teams bemoaned a lack of time for recovery in the packed schedule.
“I have found this format rather demanding, tiring, the days are long. Hyper-demanding,” said France’s Alizé Cornet.
Czech veteran Lucie Hradecka, who finished her doubles rubber after midnight on the first day of the tournament, said she was ‘drained’ after getting to the hotel at 2am.
“I took the entire day to recover,” she said. “And thinking I would have to play the next day, that would not be ideal.”
Sloane Stephens put on a more conciliatory tone, describing the tournament as a ‘work in progress’.
“There can be some things that we can change and adjust to better suit the players, not be here till 1am or 2am or whatever, but that’s just a learning curve for everyone,” she said.
Prague earned praise, however, for organising the event on just a few months short notice, stepping in when Budapest pulled out due to the pandemic, and fans were scarce for much of the week.
Some 8,700 fans watched the Czechs lose to Switzerland in their last group tie on Thursday in the O2 Arena, the capacity of which had been reduced to 12,000 and, a day later, only 3,500 turned up for the semi-finals.
“I thought we had amazing crowds, especially when the Czechs played,” said King. “I was amazed we had any people, if you look at most tournaments.”
Assessment of the event, however, sometimes depends on how the players or teams are doing.
“I think that if we had made the final, we would have loved it but…,” Ajla Tomljanovic said after Australia was ousted by Switzerland in the semi-finals.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova also praised the ‘exciting format’ after RFT had reached the final: “It’s better that you have everything in one place during one week.
“I find it different, and fun, and I like the atmosphere,” she added.