BJK Cup rookies Krawczyk, Muhammad adding fresh enthusiasm in Asheville
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — In the nearly 60-year history of the Billie Jean King Cup, formerly called Fed Cup, 82 players have proudly worn the red, white and blue and played for Team USA. That number could grow by two this week in Asheville, where rookies Desirae Krawczyk and Asia Muhammad complete captain Kathy Rinaldi's roster alongside returners Shelby Rogers, Alison Riske and Jessica Pegula.
"It's definitely amazing to be on the team this year," Krawczyk said Thursday on the eve of competiton. "I think Asia and I are really honored to represent our country, be with these girls and Kathy. It's been amazing."
Rinaldi echoed her player’s sentiments. “It’s always exciting for a captain to have rookies because they're super excited to be here, great team players,” she said. “The camaraderie has already been incredible.”
Krawczyk, 28, was an all-conference performer at Arizona State University before embarking on a professional career, so the Palm Desert, Calif. native already knows she has what it takes to thrive in a team environment. A three-time Grand Slam champion in mixed doubles in 2021, the left-hander comes into this tie ranked world No. 21 in the WTA doubles rankings.
"This definitely brings a lot of college memories," Krawczyk added. "Being on the team is so much fun ... We just have really good team chemistry."
That chemistry's been on display from the practice court to the press conference dais, and the rookies fit right in: in true U.S. Billie Jean King Cup tradition, they'll serenade the others in song before play begins in earnest.
"I took the time to try my best and come up with a rap. It's not something I do every day. I have it in my notes. I'm as prepared as I can be," Muhammad said. "We wanted to do it together, but we aren't allowed. We tried to do a rap battle. We're just overthinking it a lot ... I do mine, Des does hers. Hopefully, the team enjoys it."
Muhammad, the doubles world No. 36, is a credit to the Americans' depth. She has, in fact, the best season record of all of Rinaldi’s five available players in Asheville—but she only officially joined the team four days ago after Australian Open finalist and world No. 8 Danielle Collins, the top-ranked American in singles, withdrew with a neck injury. The 31-year-old from Long Beach, Calif. boasts an 18-3 mark in doubles in 2022, reached her biggest career final at the WTA 1000 in Indian Wells last month and comes into the tie as the doubles world No. 36. (She’s also gone 16-1 in singles, and impressively posted 27 consecutive wins across the two disciplines in February through early March.)
"We're so fortunate here in the U.S. that we have so many great players, singles and doubles players. I'm really proud that we have, like, 16 to 18 players in the top hundred in singles, but also that same exact number in doubles," Rinaldi said.
"I'm very fortunate that we have so many players that raise their hand, that want to represent their country and play. It means so much to each and every one of these players. It's such an honor to me to be their captain. It wasn't hard. As you see the team we have, it's incredible. It's unfortunate when a player is injured and they have to back out, but it's also great to know the depth we have in the U.S. to call on and they're willing to do that."
Muhammad added: "[When] Kathy called me, I think I was just shocked. She was like, 'Oh, you didn't sound too excited,' and I was like, 'I was! I was just shocked.' It was so last minute, but I'm so grateful to be here."
Though Rinaldi selected Krawczyk and Rogers as her doubles team in Thursday's official draw, she has the ability to swap out her selection should should the tie come down to a fifth and final match on Saturday. Muhammad could prove to be the ace up the captain's sleeve: she has a perfect doubles record against three of Ukraine’s four players, going a combined 5-0 against Dayana Yastremska and the Kichenok twins, Lyudmyla and Nadiia, in her career.
"The group of girls I get to be here with, they're amazing," Muhammad said. "We've been having so much fun. I'm so excited to just go out, cheer, whatever happens."