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2023 Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier: Pegula delivers clincher to send U.S. to Finals

Victoria Chiesa | April 15, 2023

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. - The U.S. Billie Jean King Cup team is headed back to the Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge Finals.


Top-ranked American Jessica Pegula, the world No. 3, was a 6-1, 6-3 winner over Austria's Julia Grabher on Saturday at the Delray Beach Tennis Center to give the hosts an unassailable lead in the qualifying tie that they eventually closed out 4-0. 


This is the second straight year that Pegula has played the role of U.S. closer, and sent her team into the Finals with a win. Last year in this round, she and Asia Muhammad won a fifth and final doubles rubber to close out a thrilling 3-2 win over Ukraine. This year, it was all business for the American in the weekend's third singles: Pegula broke Grabher's serve four times in victory, and faced a break point, in a 55-minute triumph in a match between the two countries' top players.


Read moreU.S. cruises to 2-0 lead on Day 1 vs. Austria

"I was really happy that I got to clinch the match today, especially after winning a pretty tough match last night [6-0, 7-5 over Sinja Kraus]," Pegula said afterwards.


"I really tried to go out and tried to clinch the win for us. I think it's fun and a privilege to be in this moment and do it. Obviously, a little bit of pressure, but I think it's fun to get up for those types of matches."


While Coco Gauff's scheduled singles match against Grabher was pulled from the schedule as rules dictate after the U.S. officially clinched, she and Caty McNally wrapped the tie with a 6-1, 6-4 win in doubles over Kraus and Melanie Klaffner in the final match. Gauff, not initially nominated to play doubles in the tie, replaced Danielle Collins for the last match, earning a second opportunity to play on her home court after beating Grabher in the first match on Friday night.

Gauff and McNally, the 2021 US Open women's doubles finalists dubbed 'McCoco' by fans and media alike, first reunited after eight months apart last fall for the U.S. at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in Glasgow. Saturday's concluding match was the first time they've played together since then.


"It's always so much fun when I can play with Coco. Really special," McNally said. "We haven't played together since the last finals. When we got on the court, I feel it's kind of like we haven't missed a beat. ... I still feel like we have that chemistry that's extremely special.


"We get along so well off the court. We kind of carry that on the court. We try to have fun. We know each other's game styles really well, we know what works. I think that helps out a lot. I'm just super lucky, even though the tie was over, I'm happy I was able to play with [her]."


The U.S. will next join 11 other teams at a to-be-determined location for November's Finals, to be played from Nov. 7-12, looking to win a record-extending 19th Billie Jean King Cup crown and first since 2017. Since the Billie Jean King Cup transitioned to this single-site, 12-team format for the 2021 Finals, the U.S. has yet to reach the title match.


Rinaldi, who captained the team to its last title in her first year, says that the dates are already circled on the calendar. 


"I think knowing all of the American women, they're all competitive," she said, "so I'm sure they're going to want to bring that cup home, too."

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