Hot on the heels of the WTA Finals in Cancun, the Billie Jean King Cup Finals kicked off in Seville, Spain, on Tuesday, underlining the madness of the women’s schedule that saw big names such as Iga Swiatek, Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula pull out of the latter because of the risk to their health.
It's been a busy 24 hours. As soon as I finished in Cancun, I tried to get here as soon I could. Ended up landing at 8-8:30am this morning. Bags didn't arrive, so that made it a bit tricky, but I had some rackets on me and I was prepared to play. I had my outfit, my shoes, and mentally I was ready to go, if our team needed that... Representing my country is the greatest honour and honestly the most amazing thing I can ever do with my tennis career. I want to be ready and prepared whenever possible. Storm Hunter
Last year’s Billie Jean King Cup runners-up Australia were impacted by the late arrivals of their doubles specialists, the new World Doubles World No 1 Storm Hunter and WTA Doubles finalist Ellen Perez, who had to endure 18-hour long journeys to make it to Spain by 10am on Tuesday morning.
Australia suffered an awful start to their BJK Cup Finals campaign as they lost to Slovenia in their opening Group B tie in Seville, 2-1, on Tuesday.
Kaja Juvan got outsiders Slovenia off to a flying start with a 6-4 6-1 defeat of a rusty Ajla Tomljanovic, who has spent most of the season sidelined following knee surgery, before Tamara Zidansek overcame French Open semi-finalist Daria Saville, 6-1 6-4, to give the Slovenians an unassailable lead, although a doubles rubber was still to be played.
“I think that we [have] always sort of been considered like an underdog anywhere,” Juvan said afterwards. “I’m really proud to come from Slovenia… there is only 2 million of us and, I think, as a country, we are doing exceptionally well in sports… there was a lot of Slovenians in the crowd [today]… I think every time you get a good point or you get another win it’s a completely different feeling.”
Despite only landing in Seville a few hours before the doubles rubber, and losing her luggage, Hunter paired up with Kimberley Birrell to win the match against Veronika Erjavec & Ela Milic, 7-5 6-7(2) [10-5].
“It’s been a busy 24 hours. As soon as I finished in Cancun, I tried to get here as soon I could,” Hunter said later. “Ended up landing at 8-8:30am this morning. Bags didn’t arrive, so that made it a bit tricky, but I had some rackets on me and I was prepared to play. I had my outfit, my shoes, and mentally I was ready to go, if our team needed that.
“It’s definitely been a whirlwind few days. It’s very exciting, but I’m kind of here to focus on our team. It’s not about me this week. It’s about getting Team Australia to do as best as we can.
“Representing my country is the greatest honour and honestly the most amazing thing I can ever do with my tennis career. I want to be ready and prepared whenever possible.”
The doubles win could prove to be an important rubber in the round-robin stage for Australia, who faced starting without two of their squad, as Hunter had to play her semi-final alongside Elise Mertens at the WTA Finals late on Sunday, while Perez made it into the doubles final with her American partner Nicole Melichar-Martinez that was delayed until Monday.
It left Aussie captain Alicia Molik with a dilemma as both battled difficult travel to reach Seville in time, and it left her with just 3 players.
“I’m hoping she [Hunter] arrives feeling wonderful, but she might warm up and then I don’t know,” Molik said. “It’s up to her if she wants to play or not.
“She’s experienced enough. I’m just conservative. If she doesn’t feel quite right, she’s got the right to say ‘save me for Thursday’. I mean, it’s 18-hour door-to-door trip so anyone can be forgiven for not wanting to play as they land.”
“She’s No 1 in the world – she can pick whoever she wants to play with,” Molik added. “I’ll be on the court with the two singles players, so that’s something that she’ll have to quietly decide herself.
“Whatever happens, I think we should beat Slovenia and at some point you have to trust your players to make the right calls.”
The 12 qualifying Billie Jean King Cup nations in the women’s team event formerly known as the Federation Cup, and then the Fed Cup, are split into 4 sections of 3 with the group winners progressing to the semi-finals, which will be played on Saturday, with the championship tie taking place on Sunday.
Kazakhstan joins Slovenia and Australia as the third team in round-robin Group B.
Later on Tuesday, Czech debutants Marie Bouzkova and Linda Noskova won their singles matches to clinch victory against the defending champions, Switzerland, in Group A.
It gave the Czechs an unassailable lead in the best-of-three tie, with doubles pair Barbora Krejcikova & Katerina Siniakova securing a clean sweep.
Switzerland were without Olympic champion Belinda Bencic, who announced her pregnancy last week, and Celine Naef was beaten 7-6(2) 4-6 6-4 by fellow 18-year-old Noskova, while Viktorija Golubic lost 6-4 6-4 to Bouzkova.
Noskova battled back from 4-1 down in the third set, reeling off the last 5 games in a row to triumph in her BJK Cup debut, while Bouzkova was down a break on two separate occasions in the first set before rallying back to the 1-hour and 44-minute win.
“I don’t like losing and I am a bit sad but, at the same time, it was a magic moment,” Naef said later. “I think I played very well, and the team was behind me. It was an amazing atmosphere and I think I can be proud. It means a lot. I gave all my heart out there, I gave everything I had and fought.
“It was a very good experience for me and I need these experiences. I can learn from this match, and I know that I can trust in myself that I will make it one day. This was special.”
The Czechs, who won the most recent of their 11 titles in 2018, rested Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova after she played in the WTA Finals last week, but Krejcikova & Siniakova, who also took part in the season-ending event, showed no ill effects of the long journey and short turnaround when they won 7-6(3) 6-2 against Golubic & Jil Teichmann.
The 18-time Billie Jean King Cup champions United States are the third team in Group A alongside the Czechs and the Swiss.
Canada, Poland and 5-time champions Spain make up Group C in round-robin action, and Spain, looking to prevail on home soil, will begin their campaign against Canada on Wednesday.
Four-time champion Italy, 3-time champion France and 2-time champion Germany comprise Group D. France and Italy will face off on Wednesday.
Day 1 Results
Group B – Slovenia defeated Australia 2-1
- Kaja Juvan (SLO) d. Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS) 6-4 6-1
- Tamara Zidansek (SLO) d. Daria Saville (AUS) 6-1 6-4
- Kimberly Birrell/Storm Hunter (AUS) d. Veronika Erjavec/Ela Nala Milic (SLO) 7-5 6-7(2) [10-5]
Group A – Czechia defeated Switzerland 3-0
- Linda Noskova (CZE) d. Celine Naef (SUI) 7-6(2) 4-6 6-4
- Marie Bouzkova (CZE) d. Viktorija Golubic (SUI) 6-4 6-4
- Barbora Krejcikova/Katarina Siniakova (CZE) d. Viktorija Golubic/Jil Teichmann (SUI) 7-6(3) 6-2