2023 Billie Jean King Cup Finals: Kathy Rinaldi ready for final ride as U.S. captain
The U.S. Billie Jean King Cup team is hoping to send Kathy Rinaldi out on top.
Rinaldi, the head of women's tennis for the USTA, announced earlier this year that she'd be stepping down from her other post of team captain at the conclusion of this year's Billie Jean King Cup Finals, which begin Tuesday in Seville, Spain. In 2024, she'll be succeeded in the role by three-time Grand Slam singles champion and International Tennis Hall of Famer Lindsay Davenport.
On the eve of the Finals, Rinaldi said that the last six years as captain have been "a dream," but that she's firmly focused on the business at hand: the U.S.'s pursuit of a record-extending 18th Billie Jean King Cup title. The U.S. will not see match action in Saville until Thursday, when its faces defending champions Switzerland in Group A round-robin action.
"In the back of my mind I know that [it's my last], but it's not about me," an emotional Rinaldi said Monday in Seville. "It's never been about me. It's about these players. That's what I'm going to miss the most is being with these players.
"It's going to be a special week. It already has been a special week. We are having a great time. We are working hard and having fun. We are going to be ready to go on Thursday. I'm just enjoying every second like I do every other tie. ... I know when the last day comes, that's it. I'm not captain anymore. But I know Lindsay will do a great job and step in. I'm happy for her. But this is a dream job to be with these ladies. That bench is special."
For her final go-around at the helm, Rinaldi is leading a team of two Grand Slam singles champions—Sofia Kenin and Sloane Stephens; two Grand Slam singles and doubles finalists, Danielle Collins and Taylor Townsend; and rookie Peyton Stearns, who was called up to replace Madison Keys on the roster last week .
Being Rinaldi's final five is a full circle moment, they say.
"She's been involved in every aspect of tennis, not just at the professional level, not just at the highest level, being here at Billie Jean King Cup and representing our country, but also in the junior days," Collins said. "We have all known Kathy since we were little. She was at those tournaments with us. She was coaching a lot of us. She was driving the van. Making us breakfast, lunch, warming us up, helping us in every way she could, being a mentor to a lot of us too as we grew older. I think that's what makes this week so special."
"We're going to bring our A games and A-plus-plus-plus for our coach Kathy," Townsend added. "We're really excited. Yeah, I think everyone is really looking forward to this, and I'm really happy to be a part of this team. It's a great team we've got here."
After facing the Swiss, the U.S. will face the 11-time champions, the Czech Republic, on Friday. The team that wins the group will advance to the semifinals, and the U.S. is hoping for a measure of revenge in Seville. Twelve months ago at the Finals in Glasgow, the U.S. lost to the Czechs 2-1 in the last round-robin match in a winner-take-all scenario. Marketa Vondrousova, this year's Wimbledon champion, and former doubles world No. 1 Katerina Siniakova were victorious for the Czechs in that tie, and both are again on the team this year.
"When you get out there, the matchups, you never know who's going to play who," Stephens said. "You never know who is going to come out and play and show up. I think that's what makes the U.S. so good and so strong at every single tie is because we always have an A, B, C, D, E team that can always go out and kick anyone's ass.
"I think us being here, it being Kathy's last tie, we show up every single tie, but this tie we are playing more than ourselves, more than our country, we are playing for our captain. We want to make sure we get out there and do everything we can."
Rinaldi led the U.S. to the Billie Jean King Cup title in 2017, when it was still called Fed Cup, and a runner-up finish in 2018. In 2021, her team reached the semifinals, advancing out of round-robin play in the first edition of the competition's now-standard single-site format.