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Pro Media & News

Muhammad, Pegula win deciding doubles to lead U.S. to 2022 Billie Jean King Cup Finals

Victoria Chiesa | April 16, 2022


ASHEVILLE, N.C. — A week ago, she wasn’t prepared to be on the U.S. roster, but six days later, Asia Muhammad played a leading role in sending the Team USA to November's Billie Jean King Cup Finals.

 

Playing her first-ever Billie Jean King Cup match with everything on the line, Muhammad teamed with Jessica Pegula to triumph in the deciding doubles rubber over Dayana Yastremska and Lyudmyla Kichenok, 7-6(5), 6-3, clinching a 3-2 overall win for the U.S. against Ukraine after two days of play at Harrah's Cherokee Center.

 

"I was pretty nervous in the first set. It's really different playing for your country rather than just kind of playing another tournament. I just really didn't want to let my teammates down at that certain point of the day. I just wanted to really do my best," Muhammad said after the match. 

 

"It was nice playing with Jessie. We've played before, so I felt super comfortable. That helped me relax a bit. Having [U.S. captain] Kathy [Rinaldi] on the sidelines, too, when we got to take breaks, just talk to her. After the first set, I loosened up a bit and got to enjoy it a bit more."

 

The tie only came down to a fifth and final match thanks to a spirited Saturday effort by the Ukrainians in singles after Friday’s play ended with the U.S. up 2-0 overall. In the opening match of each country’s top players, Yastremska defeated Pegula, 6-3, 6-4, before Katarina Zavatska, No. 201 in the world, sent the tie the distance with an identical win over Shelby Rogers, who came into the weekend slotted more than 150 spots ahead of her in the WTA rankings.

"I think all day we just really felt that fighting spirit of Ukraine. It was really special to see, but really tough to go against. I'm just so proud of my team for stepping up to that, having nerves of steel, really playing unbelievable," Rogers said. 

 

"I know every time we step on the court, we leave it all out there no matter what. They didn't want to go down without a fight, and that was very evident.

 

"We did the best we can every time we step on the court. I think we all came together today and fought together and worked through till the very last point. It's not over till that very last point is played. We did a really great job of that today."

Both teams who contested the final rubber were not the ones initially nominated in Thursday’s official draw: with captain Kathy Rinaldi electing to substitute Rogers in for Alison Riske in the fourth match, the nominated team of Rogers and Desirae Krawczyk was replaced by Muhammad and Pegula, while Ukraine's captain Olga Savchuk swapped Yastremska in for Nadiia Kichenok.

 

The first set of the 96-minute final match was tightly contested from the first ball. The U.S. had leads of 2-0, 4-2 and 5-3 but never reached set point prior to the tiebreak. From 5-3 down, Kichenok and Yastremska won three straight games—including holding Kichenok’s service game from 0-40 down at 5-5—and were two points from winning the first set themselves.

 

Something had to give in the tiebreak, though, and it turned out to be Kichenok’s serve. After the U.S. led for nearly all of the tiebreak, the elder of the two Ukrainians served up a double fault facing set point at 6-5 to hand a one-set lead to the Americans.

 

"I thought we just fought really well for every single point. I thought I came out playing really well. Then I thought Asia was kind of playing better at the end there. That's how doubles works," Pegula said. "It was really fun just to go out there and be in that situation. Like Billie Jean says: Pressure is a privilege."

One break of serve in the second set proved all the U.S. needed to seal the match, and ultimately, the tie. Neither Muhammad nor Pegula faced a break point in set two, where they broke at 2-1 and never looked back. Perhaps fittingly, it was Muhammad who put the finishing touches on it all, serving out the match from 0-30 down.

 

"This team that I've had this week, it's been the most fun," Muhammad added. "When I tell you guys I've not had this much fun, ever ... It's been the greatest week with all of these girls, on court, off court. Today, just having the girls on the sideline, it's been so much fun. I'm really grateful to be able to be here."

 

The 31-year-old from Long Beach, Calif. is the world No. 36 in doubles, but was only added to the U.S. roster on Sunday after Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins withdrew with a neck injury. She and Pegula previously teamed together in January to win a WTA 250 title in Melbourne, Australia, and it was that established chemistry that helped Rinaldi to make her final lineup decision.

"When you look at this team, everybody plays doubles and everybody plays it well. You just try to put together the best team that you possibly can with the best chemistry," Rinaldi said. "My gut told me to go with Jess and Asia. They've played together. They know each other's games. They've had some great results together this year. Asia has had a tremendous year this year. I thought, 'You know what, that's our team,' I'm glad I did. They did great.

 

"We're only as good as our team chemistry. The girls really came out and supported them after a long, tough day. That's what great teams do. I'm really proud of this team, really proud how they supported each other."

 

More from the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier in Asheville

Qualifier set to help tennis raise more than $1 million for Ukraine

Tennis has power to unite both globally and locally, says Billie Jean King

Grassroots tennis set to boom in Asheville again after Billie Jean King Cup

Stroud's homecoming highlights Paralympians' week at BJK Cup Qualifier

Alison Riske makes history; U.S. leads Ukraine after Day 1

Quotebook: Previewing the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier

BJK Cup rookies Krawczyk, Muhammad adding fresh enthusiasm in Asheville

Match-ups set between U.S. and Ukraine after official draw

U.S., Ukraine teams and captains touch down in Asheville

 

All photos: Mike Lawrence/USTA

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