Looking Back at USA vs. Ukraine — Quotes from Asheville — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, April 19, 2022

Happy Tennis Tuesday, everyone! Like I mentioned last week, I was fortunate enough to be part of the media crew at the Billie Jean King Cup qualifier between the United States and Ukraine. It was the third time since 2018 that Asheville hosted a BJK Cup tie, providing a positive impact to the local community.

I must kick off this Tennis Tuesday by sincerely congratulating Megan Rose, who is on The IX‘s Advisory Board, on a kick-ass weekend from start to finish. As Managing Director of Major Events for the USTA, she’s essentially the Tournament Director for these ties and she had to do double duty with the Davis Cup qualifier in March. She wore many hats, from talking to media and handling sponsors and players and the lone time I got to see her in person was when she was helping tear down the court after the final match. She was everywhere and the foundation that made the weekend what it was.

Now, the draw for the BJK Cup qualifiers were announced in October, so of course, nobody batted an eye when Ukraine was said to be traveling to the United States for the tie. Here we are, six months later and Ukraine is a victim of an unprovoked war. The Ukrainian squad, who was only able to travel with their captain Olga Savchuk, couldn’t afford normal BJK Cup costs because of the war. The USTA stepped in and covered all costs, as well as fielding a team of staff to attend to their needs — coaching, physios, etc. In Asheville, it wasn’t “USA vs. Ukraine,” but “USA hosts Ukraine.”

The first day of play began on an emotional front with Asheville native Julia Kashirets singing the Ukrainian national anthem, causing tears to well up from both teams. For the first Alison Riske then took on Dayana Yastremska, where both players made BJK Cup history in the first set. Riske took the opening set, 7-6(16) — the second-longest tiebreak in the event and longest-ever in singles. It was a back-and-forth affair with both players coming up with pretty big serves when the other had set point. Riske then went up 5-1 in the second set before Yastremska and her trademark fighting spirit came back to tie things up. Before you could feel the momentum shift hit you, Riske took the second set, 7-5, to give the US a 1-0 lead.

Jessica Pegula, who was 0-1 in BJK Cup play entering this weekend, was paired against Katarina Zavatska and it was all Pegula from the start. Zavatska noted after the match that she had been preparing all week to start off against playing Riske, but the draw ceremony revealed she’d play Pegula first. The Ukrainan had no answers for the World No. 14, who simply dominated to bring America’s lead to 2-0.

Day 2 of the Billie Jean King Cup saw a quick turnaround for Pegula, who was up against Yastremska. Though ranked No. 92 currently, Yastremska has been inside the Top 20 and she utilized the quick indoor hardcourts to her advantage. She brought the woodshed to Pegula, knocking winners left and right and ended her 6-3, 6-4, with a 112 mph second serve. For everyone in the arena — and probably beyond — it was nice to see Ukraine get at least one point on the board. The Ukraine squad was missing their Top 3 players and were only able to bring two of their Top 8 due to a variety of reasons.

The second singles match of the day saw the first substitute — Shelby Rogers replacing Riske. Personally, I wasn’t surprised as Riske and Rogers were three ranking places from one another and the surface suits both of their gamestyles. I had a feeling one would play the first day and the other the next and that’s exactly what unfolded. What I wasn’t expecting was Zavatska playing one of the matches of her life and earning a career-best win. From 1-3 down, was able to absorb Rogers’ ballstriking and redirect en route to winning in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4. Suddenly, the tie was tied at 2-2 and the original lineup of Rogers/Desirae Krawczyk vs. Lyudmyla/Nadia Kichenok was pretty much a 100% guarantee of not happening.

With one last doubles match at the Billie Jean King Cup deciding who would be moving to November’s Finals, both teams had to figure out who would take the court. While Kichenoks have won WTA titles together, they don’t play often anymore. I still thought they would be the ones to represent Ukraine. The United States, though, I was tossing mental coins in my head. Krawczyk is the highest-ranked doubles player, while late addition Asia Muhammad has simply been on fire as of late, especially in doubles. I couldn’t see Captain Kathy Rinaldi putting the two of them together as they’re both rookies and between Rogers erratic play in singles and Riske not being the most comfortable doubles player, my gut said Muhammad would pair with Pegula. The duo won a WTA 250 in Melbourne in January and are clearly comfortable with one another, enough for Pegula to get over her singles loss.

The matchup ended up being Muhammad/Pegula vs. Lyudmyla Kichenok and Dayana Yastremska. After the tie, Savchuk said the team made a collective decision to put in Yastremska, who obviously was playing great tennis this weekend, but been a vocal leader off the court, too. The first set produced some decent tennis, but you could sense the nerves on both ends. The Americans went up 5-3 before Ukraine saw themselves two points from the opener. That was until Muhammad, a Five at The IX alum, took over one of the points of the entire weekend:

The Americans continued using the momentum and captured the second set to claim the match and tie, 6-3. For me personally, it was really rewarding to see Muhammad be the hero of the weekend. While Pegula’s hands kept them in some incredible rallies, it was Muhammad’s serve and net game that elevated the team to the win. She’s been often overlooked by many since we first crossed paths at a small ITF tournament in Georgia in 2007. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the catalyst for a Top 100 breakthrough in singles for Muhammad. She’s incredible in doubles, but seems in such a great mental space and being able to come through for her team and country can knock down a lot of mental blocks.

However, perhaps my favorite Team USA moment happened after the tie. I was waiting in the media room for the team, so I figured I would check out the court so I could Instagram it later. As I walked out, I saw the team blasting “Jump Around” with Pegula and Muhammad drinking out of champagne bottles. The team gave an awesome presser where there were some tears shed, many laughs cackled but also a speaker cameo playing “Turn Down for What?” The best line didn’t make the transcript, but Pegula — perhaps with some liquid courage — kept the team at the table where the team reflected on how long they’ve known each other. From Pegula and Riske, to put in PC terms, being from Western Pennsylvania to Pegula and Rogers battling it out in a Southern sectional tournament as kids to Muhammad and Riske looking back on a match they had at USTA Clay Courts. Rinaldi and the players all said how much fun they’ve had and the team chemistry was something special. Pegula said it best — they were a vibe.

It was such a rewarding weekend to see the tennis community rally together behind Ukraine — even when it still was a competitive setting. Team Ukraine is hopeful for a wildcard into the Finals, as there is one open berth remaining. Because of the circumstances, as well as their inspiring result, I personally hope they get it.

The greatest news out of Asheville was the local community donating over $200,000 for the Tennis Plays for Peace initiative, where donations will benefit the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund. Billie Jean King and partner Ilana Kloss donated $50,000, which snowballed into other local/BJK Cup sponsors adding their names to the tally as well.

In other Billie Jean King Cup results, Iga Swiatek was utterly ruthless against Romania, dropping just one game in her two matches, while Emma Raducanu won her professional debut on clay before succumbing to blisters again.

The final Qualifier results:

Now, onto the news!


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This Week in Women’s Tennis

Kim Clijsters announced her retirement from tennis for the third and likely final time. The Hall of Famer initially came back right before the WTA’s COVID-19 shutdown and between that, catching COVID, injuries and family life, the Belgian never had a solid chance on tour. Clijsters finished her comeback with an 0-5 record across the 20 months, but did win sets against No. 29 Ekaterina Alexandrova, No. 97 Hsieh Su-Wei and No. 53 Katerina Siniakova in her final three matches. It should also be noted that her first two matches were against Garbine Muguruza and Johanna Konta, both No. 16 at the time.

The tour heads to the clay season with tournaments in Stuttgart and Istanbul. The field in Stuttgart is loaded with seven of the Top 10 players, but also includes US Open champions Emma Raducanu and Bianca Andreescu, who is making her 2022 season debut.

Serena Williams graced the digital cover of Business Insider and discussed a variety of topics including mom guilt, her Serena Ventures endeavor and how King Richard could possibly be the beginning of a series of movies about her family’s story.

WTA Charities is ramping up their impact this year, honoring campaigns at local tournaments or ones near and dear to players’ hearts.

Ashleigh Barty isn’t helping the future-LPGA rumors by signing up for an Icons Series event in July.

In college, UCLA’s club tennis team captured the Tennis on Campus National Championship. However, the biggest result of the NCAA season happened this weekend when Duke gave the University of North Carolina their first loss of the season:

Last week’s ITF World Tour results (there were no UTR Pro Tour events last week):

  • $100,000 Palm Harbor, Florida:
    • (8) Katie Bolynets def. (5) Xiyu Wang, 6-4, 6-3
    • Sophie Chang/Angela Kulikova def. Irina Maria Bara/Lucrezia Stefanini, 6-4, 3-6, [10-8]
  • $60,000 Bellinzona, Switzerland:
    • (Q) Raluca Georgiana Serban def. (1) Ekaterine Gorgodze, 6-3, 6-0
    • (1) Alicia Barnett/Olivia Nicholls def. (2) Xenia Knoll/Oksana Selekhmeteva, 6-7(7), 6-4, [10-7]
  • $25,000+H Calvi, France:
    • (4) Leolia Jeanjean def. (3) Tessah Andrianjafitrimo, 6-2, 6-2
    • (2) Sofya Lansere/Valeriya Strakhova def. (1) Estelle Cascino/Jessika Ponchet, 6-4, 7-6(5)
  • $25,000 Santa Margherita Di Pula, Italy:
    • Eva Vedder def. (7) Lina Gjorcheska, 6-2, 6-3
    • (1) Lina Gjorcheska/Eva Vedder def. Lea Boskovic/Tena Lukas, 7-5, 6-2
  • $25,000 Chiang Rai, Thailand:
    • (SE) Luksika Kumkhum def. (8) Peangtarn Plipuech, 6-3, 6-3
    • (1) Gozal Ainitdinova/Maria Tomofeeva def. (4) Momoko Kobori/Luksika Kumkhum, 2-6, 7-5, [10-4]
  • $25,000 Oeiras, Portugal:
    • (JE) Diana Shnaider def. (7) Martina Di Giusepe, 6-4, 6-2
    • Jessica Bouzas Maneiro/Guimar Maristany Zuleta de Reales def. (4) Francisca Jorge/Matilde Jorge, 3-6, 6-4, [10-8]
  • $25,000 Nottingham, Great Britain:
    • Eudice Chong def. (2) Jana Fett, 6-2, retired
    • (3) Eudice Chong/Hong Yi Cody Wong def. (4) Isabelle Haverlag/Iona Loredana Rosca, 6-2, 6-3
  • $15,000 Monastir, Tunisia:
    • (5) Angelica Raggi def. (WC) Francesca Curmi, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5
    • (1) Dasha Ivanova/Ekaterina Yashina def. Barakat Oyinlomo Quadre/Yidi Yang, 6-4, 6-7(1), [10-4]
  • $15,000 Cairo, Egypt:
    • (Q) Antonia Schmidt def. Giulia Crescenzi, 6-4, 6-7(6), 7-6(4)
    • (Alt) Ilinca Dalina Amariei/Carolina Kuhl def. Diletta Cherubini/Emily Welker, 6-2, 2-6, [10-3]
  • $15,000 Antalya, Turkey:
    • (JR) Mirra Andreeva def. Silvia Ambrosio, 7-5, 6-2
    • (4) Vanessa Ersoz/Doga Turkmen def. (1) Ksenia Laskutova/Gergana Topalova, 7-6(2), 3-6, [10-5]

Tweet of the Week

This was a vibe and a half


Five at The IX: Billie Jean King Cup in Asheville

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Asheville’s Billie Jean King Cup tie, but you must check out BJK’s entire presser here. I was extremely fortunate to meet the icon before the presser as she introduced herself to every single person in the media room individually. You don’t see that much anymore and it was a life highlight for me, not just in my career. Stay tuned as I’ve started planting the seeds for BJK x The IX!

Q. 50th anniversary of Title IX. From your standpoint, I’m sure you hear a lot about still some inequities.

BILLIE JEAN KING: I could tell you one, for sure. High school. Girls in high school still don’t have as many opportunities as boys did in 1972. That’s a sweet one to get started in.

Three something behind in scholarships. Everyone thinks we’re ahead or we’re hurting the men’s teams. It’s not true. It’s football that takes all the scholarships. If you have to be equal. Unfortunately, they’re starting at a hundred less than the women because we don’t have a football team.

Anyway, what else?

Q. Second longest tiebreak in BJK Cup history. Does another tiebreak come to mind…

ALISON RISKE: No, this takes the cake by at least 15 points (laughter).

Q. It’s an emotional weekend, an emotional time for you. What are the biggest takeaways you’ve had from this past week with your team and Team USA as well?

DAYANA YASTREMSKA: Well, the first thing I think it’s the spirit that we had here, the spirit of our team. I don’t remember the last time when we are in the team, girls were so nervous and so proud of us that we are here, we are representing our country.

I think the best experience I took from this week, it’s how to manage your emotions on court when a lot of things are going around. You still have to be focused on tennis. I think maybe yesterday I couldn’t really realize that, but today I think I could manage it.

Q. Asia, you’re the only player who actually has played on the junior Billie Jean King Cup team years ago.

ASIA MUHAMMAD: Yes.

Q. What have been the biggest similarities and differences representing your country then versus now?

ASIA MUHAMMAD: Yeah, I mean, for juniors it’s fine. You are kind of in one place, seeing a lot of the other countries there. You’re excited.

I don’t know, now I think I appreciate it a lot more than when I was younger. Yeah, I would say that’s the biggest. I really appreciate it now. I know how special it is.

Especially this team that I’ve had this week, it’s been the most fun. When I tell you guys I’ve not had this much fun, ever. It’s been the greatest week (laughter). It’s been the greatest week with all of these girls, on court, off court. Today, just having the girls on the sideline, it’s been so much fun. I’m really grateful to be able to be here.

Q. Kathy, speaking to the fundraising initiative this week, obviously the contributions will likely put tennis over its goal of $1 million in support of Ukraine. What are your thoughts on how the tennis community came out this whole week?

CAPTAIN RINALDI: The tennis community, it’s just incredible. As I’ve always said, we’re a family. We really are one big family, a close-knit family. When things get tough, and we know the last few years have been really tough with the pandemic and now with Ukraine, we really unite, we come together, do what’s right, do what’s best. We really look after each other.

As I told the Ukrainian players when they arrived at our dinner, these players, whenever I reached out to them, it’s the first thing they asked: What can we do? It was first and foremost on our minds to make them feel supported.

The money that they’ve raised has been incredible. As I told the Ukrainian players, No one should have to worry alone. That was our motto when we were going through the pandemic with our players: Nobody should have to worry alone, we’re in this together.

It’s been an incredibly special week on and off the court. It was incredible tennis. Ukraine should be so incredibly proud of their players. They came out today and they came out swinging, they played some incredible tennis. We were fortunate to get that doubles. These girls really stepped up.

Yeah, I couldn’t be more proud of the tennis community to come together, like I said. I think relationships are so important. Turned pro when I was 14, so I know so many people. Tennis has given me so much that I’m so thankful for. That’s what tennis does. It’s the greatest sport.


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: Anne Tokarski, @annetokarski, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon