'One at a time': U.S. readies for 2022 Billie Jean King Cup Finals campaign
GLASGOW, Scotland -- On the eve of the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge Finals, captain Kathy Rinaldi and the rest of the U.S. team weren't putting much stock in punditry that's anointed them prohibitive favorites to win a 19th title at the women's World Cup of tennis.
"You can't underestimate any anybody at Billie Jean King Cup," Rinaldi said Monday at the Americans' pre-event press conference. "It can bring out the best in everybody. There are a lot of emotions that go into playing when you represent your country and your team, so you just take it one at a time. I know that sounds cliche, but that's honestly, that's what we do. We don't even look ahead. We play Poland on Wednesday, and that's what we're focused on."
It's easy to see why the U.S is favored to make a deep run, or win a record-extending 19th all-time Billie Jean King Cup.
Its roster is made up of Danielle Collins, Coco Gauff, Madison Keys, Caty McNally and Taylor Townsend, who, between them, have made a combined eight Grand Slam finals across singles and doubles. The group's versatility is a natural fit for the Billie Jean King Cup Finals format, which sees the U.S. and 11 other nations who made it to the competition's ultimate stage first play two ties in their respective four round-robin groups of three.
Each group stage tie is made up of two singles matches and one doubles match, and top team out of each pool—the U.S. is slotted in Group C with Poland and fellow perennial Billie Jean King Cup contender Czech Republic—will advance to Saturday's semifinals. The Billie Jean King Cup will be won Sunday by one of the last two nations standing.
Since qualifying for the Finals in April and announcing its team in October, the U.S.'s hopes for this week have not come without challenges and changes: Gauff and Keys arrived from last week's WTA Finals in Fort Worth, Texas, where Gauff played singles and doubles with Jessica Pegula, and Keys served as an alternate but did not play a match. The quick turnaround, in fact, played a part in McNally's call-up: The 20-year-old was named to her first Billie Jean King Cup team on Monday as a replacement for Pegula, who was initially in the squad.
(Neither Gauff nor McNally, who won a WTA 125 tournament in Midland, Mich. on Sunday, in fact arrived in time for the pre-event press conference on Monday afternoon; having played her last match in Texas on Saturday night, Gauff arrived on Monday evening, and McNally was slated to arrive on Tuesday.)
Rinaldi's team in Glasgow is also completely different than the one that got it there; Pegula and Asia Muhammad won the fifth and deciding doubles match in a 3-2 victory over Ukraine in April's qualifying round in Asheville, N.C. that put the U.S. into this year's Finals. Pegula, Alison Riske-Amritraj and Shelby Rogers were Rinaldi's singles players that weekend, and Collins is the only one of her five players who played in last year's Finals.
Rinaldi knows she's fortunate to have a long roster of players willing to wear the red, white and blue, but that the luxury comes at a cost.
"That's probably the toughest job as the captain," Rinaldi said. "Everybody asks. As a captain, I don't want to let anybody down. I wish I could take them all. ... Because they put themselves out there—[with] the busy schedules, the success that each of them has had—and then they're willing to come here and play and represent their country, I take it very seriously. I put a lot of thought into it, and you just try to put the best team that you possibly can forward.
"It is a luxury to have so many players, but then it's very tough, like I said, to make those calls. They all raise their hands. They all say, 'Yes.' They all want to play. They all want to represent, and that means a lot. It means a lot to the country, but it also means a lot to me. I've been blessed and honored to be the captain for the U.S., and have had tremendous teams. We're one great big team. Without that team [in Asheville], we wouldn't be here.
"If we happen to be holding that cup, which I hope we are and I know we're capable of doing, we'll be celebrating as a complete team. That's how I look at our players. We're one big team. That's Team USA."
The U.S. comes into the group stage with an all-time history of success against both of its opponents. The Americans are 4-0 against Poland, playing here without world No. 1 Iga Swiatek, all-time, and have won five of the six all-time ties against an independent Czech Republic. The Czechs sit behind the U.S. in all-time Billie Jean King Cup titles won (11, and six in the last 10 years) but they, too, are affected by the calendar; Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, the consensus No. 1 doubles team in the world and winners of the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in 2022, advanced to Monday night's WTA Finals doubles final in Forth Worth.
"Everybody here is a strong team. Poland and Czech Republic ... It's a very strong bracket," Rinaldi said. "It's exciting. We want to play the best. You have to play everyone. You have to play the best to win the [Billie Jean King] Cup. We're here for the challenge."
Tennis Channel will provide complete live coverage of the Billie Jean King Cup Finals from Nov. 8-13. The U.S. is guaranteed two round-robin matches. The Americans will play Poland on Nov. 9, not before 11 a.m. ET; and the Czech Republic on Nov. 11, not before 11:30 a.m. ET.
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