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Pro Media & News

Captain Kathy Rinaldi Previews

2021 Billie Jean King Cup Finals

Victoria Chiesa  |  October 27, 2021
<h1>Captain Kathy Rinaldi Previews</h1>
<h2>2021 Billie Jean King Cup Finals</h2>
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Heading into her third final as U.S. Billie Jean King Cup captain, Kathy Rinaldi hopes that the depth and experience of her squad will lead the Americans to a record-extending 19th title. The new-look and re-named Billie Jean King Cup Finals, with the Fed Cup re-titled in honor of the legendary King last year, runs from Nov. 1-6 at the O2 Arena in Prague, and Rinaldi's team of five hopes to earn the U.S. its first title in four years.

 

Three of the players on the roster—Sloane Stephens, Coco Vandeweghe and Shelby Rogers—helped the U.S. win its last team title in 2017, and this year's squad will be rounded out with Danielle Collins and Caroline Dolehide. Rogers arrives in Prague as a late replacement for Jessica Pegula, who was forced to withdraw from the competition on Tuesday.

 

"I feel great about our team as captain. ADVERTISEMENT I think that's the toughest task, especially with American women, because we have so many amazing players and so many that are willing to play," Rinaldi said.

 

"I feel so grateful that we have so many players that want to play and that are committed to playing the Billie Jean King Cup. It's quite an honor, since it is the first time with the new title, and hopefully, we can bring the title home and make Billie Jean proud."

 

The lone first-time competitor on the team is 23-year-old Dolehide, who has had a career season in doubles. where Peaking at a career-high ranking of world No. 25 in August, the Hinsdale, Illinois native reached the semifinals of Wimbledon and the quarterfinals of the US Open alongside Aussie Storm Sanders. She also reached two WTA doubles finals this year, including at the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic earlier this month alongside Vandeweghe.

 

"Caroline brings that freshness and the excitement of a rookie and her first time playing. I think that she will bring bring that to our team and remind us all of that first time representing our country, which is always just so exciting. We all get to live that over again with her," Rinaldi said.

 

"She has some [Team USA experience] from the Pan American Games, but this will be very, very different. This is the big team event, and she does bring that experience of having those the gold and silver medals [from 2019], but this will be a really special time in her life. The first tie is always something you always remember, and hopefully, she'll remember all of them. That's my job as a captain to make it a great experience."

 

The six-day event is the debut of round-robin competition at the Finals, which was expected in 2020 but postponed twice as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and relocated from Budapest to Prague. Team USA will compete in Group C alongside Slovakia and Spain, the latter of which was hit this week by the withdrawals of Indian Wells champion Paula Badosa and two-time Grand Slam champion and former world No. 1 Garbiñe Muguruza. The Spanish side will nonetheless feature the rising Sara Sorribes Tormo, one of the most improved players on the WTA tour this year, and former Top 10 player Carla Suárez Navarro, who is ending her career at the event. Suárez Navarro returned to tennis in Paris this spring for a farewell season, having beaten Hodgkin's lymphoma.

 

"I have so much faith in our players. I always think that we are a threat because of our depth, because of our players, and because of the chemistry within our team. When we go in there, we never underestimate anybody because with the Billie Jean King Cup, everybody's leaving their heart and souls out on that court," Rinaldi said. 

 

"I think everybody watched Carla at the French Open coming back from being so ill, and we have nothing but love and respect for her. She's been an incredible competitor over the years and just an incredible player. I don't know her that well, but I know what I've seen of her when I've been around her. She seems like an incredible person. It'll be thrilling to be there with her and her last time. As we know, Billie Jean King Cup brings out the emotions of players when you're playing for your country, when you're playing for your teammates, for your captain and your coach. We'll be excited to be there and share that moment with her, but at the same time, the U.S. wants to wants to bring that cup back home. We're going to take it one match at a time and, hopefully, we come out successful."

 

Should the Americans advance out of the group, they'll have a semifinal match against the winner of Group A (defending 2019 champions France, the Russian Tennis Federation and Canada), with the other side of the draw featuring Group B (Australia, Belarus and Belgium) and Group D (Czech Republic, Germany and Switzerland). Other notable players competing for their nations include French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova (CZE), Tokyo gold medalist Belinda Bencic (SUI), US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez (CAN), French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RTF) and former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka (BLR). The host Czechs rank second behind the Americans in all-time championships with 11, including six of the last nine, and after a pair of postponements, stepped up to host the Finals for the fifth time in the 10 years. In 2018, the Americans and Czechs played in the showpiece match at the O2 Arena, and the home team was victorious in a 3-0 result.

 

Nonetheless, Rinaldi says, the U.S. holds good memories of its last trip to Prague and will be ready for a potential rematch with the trophy on the line. 

 

"We're excited to go back to Prague. 2018 was an incredible experience even though we came up short. They were incredible hosts and gracious and and I'm sure it's a thrill for them to be able to host," Rinaldi said. "They have an incredible roster of players and always have, and always get tremendous support. We really enjoy playing in front of that crowd and look forward to it. Even though we wouldn't play them until the final, we hope that we have that opportunity once again."

 

The U.S. will play Slovakia on Tuesday, Nov. 2, and Spain on Wednesday, Nov. 3. Both ties will be played on Centre Court and not before 5 p.m. local time. A full schedule, results and competition information is available from the International Tennis Federation at billiejeankingcup.com.

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