Previewing the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers — Interview: Samantha Crawford — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, April 12, 2022

Happy Tennis Tuesday, y’all! This upcoming weekend, I’m fortunate enough to be representing The IX at the Billie Jean King Cup qualifier between the United States and Ukraine!

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The tie will be held at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville and although Danielle Collins, Sloane Stephens and Elina Svitolina have all withdrawn from the tie, it’s still going to be a nice outing led by Jessica Pegula, who got married last Fall at the Biltmore. Alison Riske and Desirae Krawczyk join Five at The IX alums Asia Muhammad and Shelby Rogers to make up the Kathy Rinaldi-led team. The USTA, who is supplying Ukraine with a variety of staff since their captain is the only non-player joining them, will be donating 10% of all ticket sales to a Ukraine relief fund, with Billie Jean King announcing a $50,000 donation on top of it.

This weekend will have a total of seven qualifiers to determine what the field will be for the Billie Jean King Cup Finals, which will be held at the end of the season. Because of the Ukrainian invasion, Russia and Belarus have been suspended as teams and therefore won’t be participating in the event. Australia, Slovakia and Belguim all received byes into the Finals as a result, joining 2021 runner-up Switzerland.

Of these qualifiers, here are the thoughts/storylines you should keep an eye out for:

  • Italy vs. France
    • This could potentially be the closest tie of the weekend. Italy is hosting on hardcourts, which slightly favor the French squad. However, Italy is carrying four Top 100 players, plus Elisabetta Cocciaretto, who is coming off of the biggest title of her career. I say Italy edges out France 3-2 since their singles players, especially Jasmine Paolini, are more in-form than the French.
  • USA vs. Ukraine
    • Obviously, the emotional intangible will be why everyone will be tuning in. If Elina Svitolina hadn’t withdrawn, there could’ve been a possible upset brewing. However, I don’t see Dayana Yastremska gathering two singles wins, plus the Kichenok twins grabbing the double point. I’m curious where Kathy Rinaldi will line up her players in singles. Jessica Pegula seems like a sure No. 1, but Shelby Rogers and Alison Riske are right next to each other in rankings/form. Because Riske was a late addition, I say Rogers will get the Day 1 nom and then Rinaldi will flip them. However, I’d love to see Asia Muhammad and Desirae Krawczyk gain some playing time during their debut.
  • Czech Republic vs. Great Britain
    • Unfortunately, as much as I love Anne Keothavong as a captain, I don’t see her Great Britain team doing much against the Czech team. Not only is the tie being held in the Czech Republic, it’s also on red clay. Emma Raducanu hasn’t played a professional match on the surface and the Czech Republic has all four players in the Top 70. Great Britain simply doesn’t have enough juice to crack the Czech armor. Expect this one to be a quick rout in the favor of the Czech squad.
  • Kazakhstan vs. Germany
    • Kazakstan is hosting a playoff qualifier for the first time ever and is being captained by the recently-retired Yaroslava Shvedova. Germany is being led by Angelique Kerber, but the Kazak team has Elena Rybakina, Yulia Putintseva and Zarina Diyas. On paper, Germany should be expected to cruise to at least 3-4 points, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Kazakhstan continues to make history and clinches a berth. If Kerber can squeak out a win over Rybakina, that would give the German team a huge boost. However, the home crowd in Kazakhstan could be the wildcard to put their team through.
  • Canada vs. Latvia
    • Jelena Ostapenko is one of the stronger players of the year so far, but she’s alone in her level when it comes to her Latvian teammates. As much as I joke about my predictions, this may a lop-sided 3-2. With Leylah Fernandez and Rebecca Marino headlining the Canadian team, as well as Gaby Dabrowski in doubles, they have a clear route to the Finals. Throw in Francoise Abanda, who has historically brought her best-career tennis to BJK Cup. She may be the wildcard of the entire tie.
  • Netherlands vs. Spain
    • The Netherlands is hosting on clay, which would usually favor their team, but Sara Sorribes Tormo headlining the Spanish is a nightmare on that surface. Even though Garbine Muguruza and Paula Badosa both withdrew from the tie due to injury, the Anabel Medina Garrigues-captained team should ease into the Finals. The Dutch, like Great Britain, aren’t stacked enough to take over a team that chronically advances deep into the tournament.
  • Poland vs. Romania
    • Even more than attending the USA tie myself, this was going to be my one tie that you must tune into. That was before Simona Halep withdrew from Team Romania. I would’ve loved to see the epic battle that she and Iga Swiatek were going to have. Both players bleed for their country and a match between the current and former World No. 1 players could’ve been epic. Still, this is Swiatek’s first outing since officially becoming the top player and she’s on an impressive streak. Look for that to continue, but if Romania can edge out wins over Magda Linette/Magdalena Frech, you have to favor them in doubles. Irina-Camelia Begu is always a dangerous floater in international team competition, so she could be the star of the tie. However, with the matchup being in Poland, I see Swiatek guiding her squad through.

For predictions, I see Italy, USA, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Canada, Spain and Poland booking their tickets to the Finals. But we know how I am with my guesses…..

Until then, time for links!

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This Week in Women’s Tennis

Ashleigh Barty penned a fantastic letter, giving more insight behind her retirement and a look back at her incredible career.

Belinda Bencic captured the sixth WTA singles title of her career at the Credit One Charleston Open with a three-set win over Ons Jabeur. It’s the first clay court title of Bencic’s career, who had her first breakthrough as a player at the same tournament in 2014 when she made the semifinals as a qualifier. Magda Linette won her first WTA doubles title, taking Charleston with Andreja Klepac over Sania Mirza and Lucie Hradecka.

At the Copa Colsanitas presentado por Zurich, Tatjana Maria became the first mother-of-two this century to win a WTA title when she took a three-set win over surprise finalist and fellow qualifier Laura Pigossi. Maria, who gave birth last April and came back from maternity leave in August, captured her second WTA title as a result. The doubles title went to University of Kentucky alum Aldila Sutjiadi and Vanderbilt alum Astra Sharma. The all-SEC duo defeated Emina Bektas (University of Michigan) and Tara Moore in three sets. It’s the first WTA title for Sutjiadi, who cracks the Top 100 after becoming the first Indonesian to win a WTA event since 2003. Bektas and Moore also made history as the first married couple to pair up and contest in a WTA final.

The weekly WTA features you have to check out:

  • Ashleigh Barty joining the WTA Insider podcast to discuss her shocking retirement last month.
  • Champions Corner with WTA Insider and Belinda Bencic.
  • WTA Insider’s Q&A with Jessica Pegula, where they chat clay tennis, Iga Swiatek, balancing her entrepreneurship, tennis and Player Council, and more.
  • Karolina Pliskova talking with WTA Insider to chat her comeback from her wrist fracture, the mindset of sitting out and coming back and the Ashleigh Barty retirement.
  • Greg Garber’s features on Leylah Fernandez relishing a Top 10 debut, while Ons Jabeur aims to crack the Top 5.

In some huge coaching news, Patrick Mouratoglou left the Serena Williams camp after nearly a decade and has joined Simona Halep. Keep an eye on this partnership, but also see if this means anything for the GOAT and her future plans.

At Charleston, Nick McCarvel chatted with Sania Mirza about making the 2022 season probably her last on tour following her comeback from maternity leave.

Last week’s ITF World Tour champions:

  • $80,000 Oeiras, Portugal:
    • (Q) Elisabetta Cocciaretto def. Viktoriya Tomova, 7-6(5), 2-6, 7-5
    • (1) Katarzyna Piter/Kimberley Zimmerman def. Katharina Gerlach/Natalija Stevanovic, 6-1, 6-1
  • $25,000 Pretoria, South Africa:
    • Due to weather, the tournament wasn’t completed. Eudice Chong made the singles final and was awaiting the winner of Hong Yi Cody Wong and Valeria Savinykh. The doubles final was abandoned before Eudice Chong/Hong Yi Cody Wong and Anna Sinclair Rogers/Christina Rosca could face off.
  • $25,000 Chang Rai, Thailand:
    • Alexandra Eala def. (WC) Luksika Kumkhum, 6-4, 6-2
    • (1) Kyoka Okamura/Pengtarn Plipuece def. YeXin Ma/Fang Ying Xun, 4-6, 6-3, [10-5]
  • $15,000 Antalya, Turkey:
    • (JR) Mirra Andreeva def. Martina Colmegna, 6-7(6), 6-0, 6-2
    • (1) Vlada Koval/Gergana Topalova def. (2) Ksenia Laskutova/Sapfo Sakellaridi, 7-6(9), 6-2
  • $15,000 Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt:
    • (4) Fangzhou Liu def. (7) Yidi Yang, 6-2, 7-6(5)
    • Gabriella Mujan/Maria Fernanda Navarro def. (1) Dasha Ivanova/Stephanie Judith Visscher, 6-3, 7-5
  • $15,000 Monastir, Tunisia:
    • (2) Joanna Garland def. Rebeka Stolmar, 7-5, 6-1
    • Meiling Wang/Xinxin Yao def. (3) Victoria Muntean/Rebeka Stolmar, 6-2, 4-6, [10-3]

Bianca Andreescu will begin her 2022 season next week at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany after accepting a wildcard.

Madison Keys continues to award Medals of Kindness to those behind the scenes at WTA tournaments with April Gift of Charleston receiving the latest.

As part of their 50th anniversary celebration, the Credit One Charleston Open hosted a slew of former champions to partake in this year’s tournament.

This past week’s Universal Tennis Pro Tennis Tour results:

  • $25,000 Dubai:
    • 1st place playoff: Dalila Jakupovic def. Anastasia Zolotareva, 7-5, 7-5
    • 2nd place playoff: Laura Svatikova def. Andreea Amalia Rosca, 6-3, 6-2
    • 3rd place playoff: Ekaterina Yashina def. Arina Vasilescu, 7-5, 6-2
    • 4th place playoff: Zuzana Zlochova def. Sarah-Rebecca Sekulic, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3
    • 5th place playoff: Mariia Bergen def. Michaela Honcova, 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-2
  • $25,000 Dobrich, Bulgaria:
    • 1st place playoff: Ioana Gaspar def. Zinovia Vaneva, 6-2, 6-3
    • 2nd place playoff: Gebriela Mihaylova def. Darya Velikova, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5
    • 3rd place playoff: Gabriela Duca def. Melis Sezer, 7-5, 6-2
    • 4th place playoff: Aleksandra Simeva def. Liya Pencheva, 6-1, 6-1
    • 5th place playoff: Simona Ogescu def. Stefana Lazar, 6-1, 6-4
  • $25,000 Atlanta, Georgia:
    • 1st place playoff: Mia Horvit def. Tiphanie Fiquet, 7-6(4), 3-6, 7-6(5)
    • 2nd place playoff: Bojana Pozder def. Iryna Lysykh, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2
    • 3rd place playoff: Ashton Bowers def. Quetzali Vazquez Montesinos, 7-6(6), 1-0, retired
    • 4th place playoff: Conley Raidt def. Tereza Koplova, 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(7)
    • 5th place playoff: Elizabet Verizova def. Olivia Halvorsen, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(3)

Credit One Charleston Open’s Pro-Am event, the first through WTA Charities, came through big for Ukraine relief, raising over $100,000. Tracy Austin, Madison Keys, Shelby Rogers and Jessica Pegula were the some names that donated their time for the cause.

This week’s biggest ranking shifters come from Bogota finalists Tatjana Maria and Laura Pigossi, but Kamilla Rakhimova also made her debut in the WTA’s Top 100.

The #1s from last week’s collegiate tennis rankings:

  • Division I:
    • Team: University of North Carolina
    • Singles: Daria Frayman (Princeton University)
    • Doubles: Fiona Crawley/Elizabeth Scotty (UNC)
  • Division II:
    • Team: Barry University
    • Singles: Deniz Khazan (Barry)
    • Doubles: Daniela Farfan/Kim Moosbacher (Barry)
  • Division III:
    • Team: University of Chicago
    • Singles: only regional rankings listed
    • Doubles: only regional rankings listed

The Polish fans love their WTA polls and they came through for Iga Swiatek, who was awarded the WTA Shot of the Month for March.

Tweet of the Week

Kveta Peschke played the last WTA match of her career this past week in Charleston before looking to say farewell at Wimbledon. She’s had an incredible career, playing her first professional event in 1992. The 46-year-old reached a career-high singles ranking of No. 26 in 2005 and she won 1 WTA singles title and 10 ITF World Tour titles. In doubles, she peaked at No. 1 in 2011, the same year she won her lone Grand Slam at Wimbledon. She took home 36 WTA doubles titles and another 8 on the ITF World Tour. She reached another 42 doubles finals including the WTA Finals three times and two other Grand Slams. In mixed doubles, she was a three-time finalist, all at the US Open.

Five at The IX: Samantha Crawford

Samantha Crawford is an American tennis player who captured the 2013 US Open Girls Singles title. In her career, she’s captured 1 ITF World Tour singles title and 5 ITF World Tour doubles titles. She peaked at No. 98 in the WTA singles rankings in 2016 and No. 216 in the WTA doubles rankings in 2015. After over four years away due to injury, she’s back on the circuit and made the finals of a $15,000 ITF event in just her second tournament back. She discusses her injury, future plans and what she’s noticed coming back at the bottom level of professional tennis. You can follow her on Instagram or Twitter.

Joey: You’re back on tour after a 4-year hiatus due to injury. Can you give our readers a rundown of that period? 
Samantha: At the beginning, I was trying to rehab my left knee and try some alternatives other than the surgery I ended up having. Unfortunately, everything I tried would only help for a short period of time and it eventually got to the point where I was in pain just walking. So finally, I decided to have a pretty big operation that would take me out of tennis for at least a year. This turned out to be way longer than a year and I struggled a lot with what I wanted to do in terms of tennis continuing my tennis career during the first 2 or so years. I had a lot of different setbacks and lost a lot of motivation. But around Fall of last year, I did a lot of thinking and decided I wanted to really recommit myself to tennis and give myself a fair shot at coming back. 

Joey: What did you fill your time with, and did it teach you anything? 
Samantha: At first, I think it was really tough on me not having tennis to focus on. I definitely felt like I was in a limbo of sorts for a pretty long while. It got better when I was through the worst part of rehab for my knee and was enrolled in school. I think I learned a lot about myself during this time and in a lot of ways it’s helped me mature more than I think tennis could have. I think the most important thing I learned was who I am as a person outside of tennis.

Joey: You pursued college in your time off and also worked in the corporate world. What are you studying and what do you hope to do when your playing career is over? With your injury setbacks, did you ever regret not pursuing the college tennis route?
Samantha: Yes, I’m graduating this fall from UF Online with a BA in Business Administration and a specialization in Sport Management. I’m thinking of pursuing an MBA and I think I would love to end up on the business side of tennis after my playing career. I’ve already been so fortunate and have had some amazing opportunities to work both on court as a coach and in a non-tennis related job for a little over 2 years.

I’ve never regretted not pursuing the college tennis route, I’m a firm believer that everyone has their own path. I’ve had really tremendous support from my parents and those around me that have always told me and encouraged me that I should pursue my degree regardless of tennis. I promised my dad when I was making the decision to turn pro that I would get my degree so it was always something I knew I was going to do no matter what. 

Joey: In just your second ITF tournament, you qualified and reached the final before having to retire in the second set. What is your current setup and what tournaments are next on your schedule? Obviously health is most-important, but do you have any specific goals for 2022?
Samantha: Naples was a great week and I’m excited to keep building from here. I’ve been training in Orlando and have gotten some solid training blocks in before this tournament and have another solid training block coming up. I think next up on my schedule is some more 15k’s and 25k’s and seeing how those go and building from there.

Staying healthy is always a huge goal and probably my main goal. Other than that, I think my other main goal for 2022 is really just going out and enjoying playing and competing again and seeing how many matches I can get in this year. I’ve been so grateful to be out on the court again and I just want to enjoy it and go with the flow and be understanding and accepting of the process

Joey: As someone who’s been in the Top 100 and played the world’s best events and coming back up on the ITF World Tour, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve noticed at that level? What do you think should be done to maximize the “minor leagues?”

Samantha: I think it’s always a bit of a grind being at smaller tournaments. Prize money is way less and a lot of times there aren’t affordable hotel options or housing available for players. So, it can end up being a lot of weeks where you’re losing a lot more than you’re making, which just isn’t feasible in the long run for most. This can be super stressful and discouraging. I think that the right step is continuously working on increasing prize money at this level, it has been increased some since I’ve come back, but I think this is always going to be a main issue.


Joey: What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received and who gave it? If you could go back in time, what would you tell 18-year-old Samantha?
Samantha: I think the best piece of advice I’ve received is from my dad, he used to work in hospitals and growing up he always told me and instilled in me that I should never feel sorry for myself. He would always tell me it’s tough to feel sorry for yourself in that setting because you can go down any hall and pop into any room and there’s someone fighting for their life or who has it much worse. And I think that’s really helped me try to always be so grateful for all the wonderful blessings I have in my life.

I would tell 18-year-old Sam to believe in herself more and to not dwell on losses or setbacks as much. I would also tell her failure is not the end of the world and to enjoy the little moments as much as she can.

Joey: For our readers who play recreationally, can you give one or two pieces of advice to help them on-court?
Samantha: I think one of the most helpful things for me when I’m playing on court is taking my time on my serve and making sure I have a good toss. Also, just picking 1 or 2 things to tell myself to focus on, sometimes focusing on too many things while you’re playing can be really unhelpful.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon