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Match-ups set between U.S. and Ukraine for 2022 Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier
ASHEVILLE, N.C. - After nearly a week's worth of preparations, the tennis between Team USA and Team Ukraine is set to take center stage at the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier. The draw for this, the preliminary round of the World Cup of women's tennis, was conducted Thursday by ITF neutral referee Dimitri Leifman of Israel, and he was assisted in the formalities by U.S. Paralympian Conner Stroud—who hails from Rutherfordton, N.C., just an hour's drive from Asheville.
Stroud pulled Dayana Yastremska's name from the player pool first, ensuring that Ukraine's top player will start Friday's play against U.S. No. 2 Alison Riske, with U.S. No. 1 Jessica Pegula against Ukraine's No. 2, Katarina Zavatska, to follow. The reverse singles will be played on Saturday, where Pegula is scheduled to open against Yastremska and Riske will face Zavatska. Should the tie come down to a fifth and final match, U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi selected Desirae Krawczyk and Shelby Rogers opposite Ukraine captain Olga Savchuk's picks of Lyudmyla and Nadiia Kichenok.
"We've had a couple of great days of practice, two and a half days of great practice. Everybody is hitting the ball well and we're ready to go," Rinaldi told reporters following the draw. "We're looking forward to a full, full arena."
Play on both days begins at 1 p.m. Tickets are still available for both sessions at Ticketmaster, and the USTA is donating 10% of gate revenue from the event to the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund, with additional donations coming from local sponsors Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos, Ingles Markets and New Belgium Brewing Company. These efforts will contribute to the Tennis Plays for Peace initiative, launched last month by the sport's seven main governing bodies in support of humanitarian relief on the ground in Ukraine.
Read more: Billie Jean King to attend U.S. and Ukraine Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier, donate $50,000 to Ukraine relief
"We're not feeling that we're playing against them this weekend, we are feeling that we are playing with them this weekend," Lyudmyla Kichenok said of the U.S. team, to which her sister chimed in, "for Ukraine, for U.S., for a good cause."
Pegula, playing in just her second Billie Jean King Cup tie, is one spot off her career-high ranking of No. 13 and will make her debut as the Americans' top player this weekend. She'll play her first live rubber, too, as her only previous Billie Jean King Cup match was doubles loss in Team USA's 3-2 2019 win over Switzerland after that tie was already decided.
But as one of two Tokyo Olympians on Rinaldi's roster this week along with Riske, the Buffalo, N.Y. native knows what it's like to play for her country when it counts. Riske, a late substitution for Sloane Stephens in this tie, is seeing her first Billie Jean King Cup action in four years.
"It's playing something bigger than yourself. Especially the situation this week, playing Ukraine, I think we can look at it much, much bigger than ourselves," Pegula said. "To come together with them, play, put on some good tennis, it's going to be great."
Added Riske: "It's something that I personally don't take very lightly. I know none of these girls do either, so just to be beside them, when we were usually playing for ourselves, it's something really special. To have the week with them, too, just to be with them doing fun things outside of the tennis court, too, is really awesome."
With a smile, Riske added: "I usually don't leave my hotel room when I'm at a tournament by myself. When I'm with the team, this atmosphere, it makes things a lot of fun."
The tie is unique not only because of the world events currently raging in its background, but in a tennis context, too. Though all nine players are familiar with each other from their weeks on the WTA tour and from their socializing this week, the four nominated in singles have never before played each other.
"I think they're going through something really hard, but it's also nice just to be normal for them. What they're dealing with I can't quite imagine. I don't think we're ever going to be able to really understand that," Pegula said. "Sitting down at dinner [on Tuesday], talking about what's on the menu, what we're going to get, drink, where we're going to go for dessert afterwards. I think that was just really fun to connect with them in that way."
"We're so happy to welcome them here ... At the same time, we're all coming together to try to play the best tennis that we can and put on a show and enjoy the crowd," Rogers continued. "We've exchanged friendships and handshakes and smiles this week, but I think this weekend is going to be about tennis for all of us."
The U.S. has won six of its last seven Billie Jean King Cup ties on home soil, while Ukraine is looking to extend its unbeaten streak in the competition to five. The winner of this weekend's tie will advance to November's Billie Jean King Cup Finals.
For more information, including access to player and historical records, visit the USTA's Billie Jean King Cup homepage of the official Billie Jean King Cup site.
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