Lets Talk Billie Jean King Cup — Quotes from Prague — Must-click women’s tennis links
The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, November 2, 2021
Happy Tuesday and Happy November (what!?)!
I can’t believe we’re already in November and unfortunately on a Tennis Tuesday front, that means the end of the season is around the corner. It honestly feels like yesterday the tour was shut down and there was no play at all. This week, that’s half-true as the WTA is taking a week off before the AKRON WTA Finals Guadalajara take place. Why is there a week pause, you may ask? Because all of the eyes turn to Prague and the O2 Arena for the Billie Jean King Cup Finals!
Originally supposed to be held in April 2020 in Budapest, we’re finally getting our fun team action on our screens. 12 teams spread across four groups will battle it out for the first trophy since Fed Cup was renamed in Billie Jean King’s honor. Now those 12 teams:
Czech Republic (H)
Play has already kicked off, with Canada capturing an upset win over defending champion France, led by Francoise Abanda’s big win over Fiona Ferro. The Czech Republic team had their hands full with a German squad led by a resurgent Angelique Kerber, but emerged with a 2-1 victory. Currently, the group stage is still very much up in the air.
With Russia’s 3-0 win over Canada, the Canadian squad has been eliminated from contention. The winner of the Russia-France tie will advance to the semifinals. In my opinion, Russia is the team to beat with a solid team of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Daria Kasatkina, Veronika Kudermetova, Ekaterina Alexandrova and Liudmila Samsonova on the team. That’s five players ranked No. 41 or better where all can play either singles or doubles. The best two-out-of-three match format I think helps the Russians even more, and that’s without factoring in the indoor hardcourt.
Prediction: 1. Russia, 2. Canada, 3. France
This group can be a real toss-up. Elise Mertens is leading the Belgium squad, but I do expect Australia to emerge out of this group. They have a fantastic team chemistry and individually their players are peaking at the right time. Ellen Perez has been playing some outstanding doubles, Ajla Tomljanovic has been producing some of her most consistent tennis and Daria Gavrilova is more than eager to make her comeback following February Achilles surgery. Australia upset Belgium 2-1 today and the Belarus squad is a bit depleted without Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka
Prediction: 1. Australia, 2. Belgium, 3. Belarus
While Spain has a solid team led by Sara Sorribes Tormo and Carla Suarez Navarro, the United States is way too stacked to be knocked out before the semifinals. The Americans always perform well in BJK Cup action and with it being a true team round robin format, I expect them to possibly be the toughest test for both Russia and the Czech Republic. USA brought 3/4 of their 2017 final-winning team and between Danielle Collins, Shelby Rogers and Sloane Stephens, while factoring in Coco Vandeweghe, who more than delivers for BJK Cup and debutant Caroline Dolehide as a doubles secret weapon, they could sneak away with the trophy. Slovakia is the third team in this group and I can’t see them escaping from this group with their starpower.
Prediction: 1. USA, 2. Spain, 3. Slovakia
This group. Wow. Call it the Group of Death. Czech Republic, who has been the deepest contingent in women’s tennis for at least the last 5 years, possibly even longer, headlines the group. Not only are they strong with Barbora Krejcikova and Katarina Siniakova, but they also have Marketa Vondrousova, Tereza Martincova and Lucie Hradecka. Switzerland is led by Belinda Bencic, but they also have Victorija Golubic, who partnered with Bencic for an Olympic silver medal. The third team I mentioned earlier was Germany. Angelique Kerber is playing some phenomenal tennis as of late, but there seems to be a little bit of a lack of depth when it comes to the other two teams here. The Czech-Swiss matchup could be the tie of the tournament and mark which team will advance onto the semifinals.
Prediction: 1. Czech Republic, 2. Switzerland, 3. Germany
Because I love poking fun at myself, we’ll continue with predictions. Winners of Groups A and C will play each other in the semifinals, where they will face the winner of Groups B/D. I see Russia knocking out USA and then Czech Republic sweeping Australia. My gut says Russia will emerge victorious, but with the tournament being in Prague, that could honestly be enough for the Czech team to power through in an upset. However, Russia is stacked and I can’t see anyone stopping them this year.
COVID really put a dampener on the first BJK Cup Finals and I’m hoping that 2022 will see more of the game’s stars playing in a week that isn’t right before the WTA Finals that’s held in a completely different continent with high altitude.
Comment or tweet at me your thoughts on the BJK Cup. Am I over my head thinking Russia is going to dominate? Rhetorical question, of course.
Onto the links!
This Week in Women’s Tennis
The biggest news of the week came from Anett Kontaveit, who needed to win the Transylvania Open in Cluj-Napoca, Romania to qualify for the AKRON WTA Finals. The Estonian not only did that, but knocked out home favorite Simona Halep to capture her fourth WTA title of the year and narrowly edged out Ons Jabeur for the final berth in Guadalajara. The doubles title went to Irina Bara and Ekaterine Gorgodze, who edged out Aleksandra Krunic and Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove in a tight match tiebreaker.
Donna Vekic found herself lifting a WTA trophy for the first time since 2017 at the Courmayeur Ladies Open, where she downed Clara Tauson in the final. It was a nice moment for the Croat, who had undergone knee surgery in February and saw herself drop out of the Top 100 in September for the first time since 2016. Zheng Saisai and Wang Xiyu needed a match tiebreaker to win the doubles crown over Eri Hozumi and Zhang Shuai.
Not only did the WTA Finals field complete last week in singles, but the doubles field was finalized as well. Five at The IX alum Giuliana Olmos will have plenty of fans in Mexico cheering her on as she and Sharon Fichman claimed the last spot. Fellow alums Gaby Dabrowski and Luisa Stefani also qualified, but Stefani’s knee injury from the US Open and subsequent surgery kept them from participating.
Greg Garber spoke with Carla Suarez Navarro as part of the WTA’s ACEing Cancer initiative while the Spaniard wraps up her playing career at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals. In other cancer news, Serena and Venus Williams, along with Pam Shriver, participated in the LA Cancer 5k Challenge where Esther Lee, the Williams’ former physio, was the honorary race starter as she battles pancreatic cancer.
It’s not everyday that a Grand Slam champion never had a tour win, but Emma Raducanu isn’t like most players. She reached the quarterfinals in Cluj-Napoca before falling to Marta Kostyuk, who was quite frank about seeing the Brit reach Grand Slam success when they were former junior rivals.
More Top 10 debuts continue to unfold on the WTA rankings, with Anett Kontaveit adding her list with her title run in Romania. Ashleigh Barty enters her 100th week as World No. 1 and finds herself among some esteemed company as a result.
The WTA Player Board and Player Council election results were announced:
The status of unvaccinated players for the Australian Open remain at a standstill. I have my thoughts on this, which will be part of (foreshadowing alert!) the list of my hopes for 2022. Stay tuned!
I really want tennis trading cards to be a thing, but if the news of Serena Williams’ rookie card nearly going for $50,000 is any indicator, I may just have to continue looking from afar.
Speaking of the Williams sisters, Venus was asked about starting a tennis academy with Serena and I never thought I’d see the day where either would weigh that option. Should this ever happen, you bet I’m signing up for a week package. This past week also marked the pro debut anniversaries for both Venus and Serena.
Our thoughts go out to the family and friends of Alessio Ceccarelli, a longtime ohysio on both the ATP and WTA tours who passed away last week.
The singles and doubles participants for the final collegiate tennis tournament of the Fall, the ITA Cup, were announced, with play beginning this week.
Tweet of the Week
Ons Jabeur was winning Twitter this week while biting her fingernails as Anett Kontaveit took her WTA Finals berth:
Five at The IX: BJK Cup Finals
“We had 116 nations that started the competition so as we come here to the Finals to find the world champion it’s really special because we’re going to see a great week of tennis, we’re going to see 12 teams that are just going to leave it all on the court, it’s going to be very, very exciting.” Dave Haggerty, ITF President
“I had a virtual chat with the Junior Davis Cup and Junior BJK Cup teams in Turkey a couple of weeks ago and I want to bring the culture through this opportunity to make a difference, to have champions on and off the court, and I think we can do this, because we have a way to do it.” – Billie Jean King
“Playing in a team environment is what I love to do and to be here representing Australia is an amazing feeling. I got a glimpse of that at the Olympics and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. So I really wanted to make this team and be able to play for Australia again, so it’s a great feeling.” – Ellen Perez
“We didn’t bring our costumes – this week we’re all Team USA and that’s our costume – so I had to share a little bit of what I did before I travelled. Is there a message to be taken from Ted Lasso? The main message is, ‘believe’.”
“There is also a very big underdog story, which we are not, but maybe another message is about being a goldfish as they have a short memory, so when something goes wrong, you just have to move forward and make the next thing better.” – Shelby Rogers
“Even with a busy schedule, there was never a chance I was not going to be here. I always want to represent Czech Republic, especially when playing at home. Playing at home and representing your country is the biggest thing for an athlete.” – Barbora Krejcikova