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Past, present and future of Billie Jean King Cup unite at 2023 Qualifier

Victoria Chiesa | April 15, 2023

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. - The old adage of "one team, one dream" couldn't have rang truer this week in Delray Beach, Fla. as the past, present and future of the U.S. Billie Jean King Cup team all came together for a celebration of women's tennis at the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier. 


The supporting events surrounding this weekend's tie between the U.S. and Austria, won by the Americans to put them into November's Billie Jean King Cup Finals, elevated it into something akin to a festival atmosphere, and made it a fitting stage for what has made U.S. women's tennis special in the last six decades. Over the course of the week leading up to Friday and Saturday's matches, the current U.S. team—here, made up of Coco Gauff, Jessica Pegula, Danielle Collins, Sofia Kenin and Caty McNally—also had the opportunity to hear from those who donned the red, white and blue before them firsthand in a variety of settings, including at the event's welcome reception with the Austrian team, and at a multi-generational dinner for U.S. Billie Jean King Cup players that saw past players like Rosie Casals, Chris Evert, Andrea Jaeger, Billie Jean King and others tell the stories of their careers. 


"That was actually really cool," Pegula said. "I was just talking to Danielle, and I was like, 'Wow, they're talking about changing the entire game, creating the game, creating the WTA, fighting communism.' There was a lot of depth in there. 


"I'm thinking, 'That wasn't that long ago.' It's really insane that that's where it all started, different generations, of this whole process to where we are today. I think it's just super inspiring and really makes you appreciate these weeks."

This competition, colloquially called the women's World Cup of tennis, is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, having first been played in 1963. Formerly named Fed Cup, the event was rebranded in King's honor in 2020, but two other U.S. legends were honored for their services to the U.S. team in their careers in Delray Beach. 


On Friday, the first night of the two-day tie, Evert was presented with the Billie Jean King Cup Commitment Award, and Rosie Casals was presented with her award on Saturday. The award is given to women who have shown exceptional dedication to their countries in the event over their careers, and Casals and Evert are just two of the eight Americans to receive it all-time. 


Evert represented the U.S. a total of 42 times from 1977 to 1989, and helped the U.S. to eight of its 18 all-time titles. She posted a 57-4 record, and a 40-2 mark in singles, in the event; both are U.S. records.

In an on-court ceremony, Evert said that joining forces with women who were historically her longtime rivals, and lifting each other up to one collective goal, was a memory that she cherished. 


"Playing Fed Cup, now Billie Jean King Cup, it was the best week of my whole year," Evert said. "I knew not only was I playing for my country, but I'd have Martina [Navratilova] on the bench cheering for me. I'd have Pam Shriver cheering for me. I'd have Tracy Austin cheering for me. I would have Zina Garrison. This is an individual sport ... but I had their backs. They had my back. We practiced together. We ate lunch together. We did everything together. We were finally close friends and we were finally on the same page. It was a great camaraderie between us. 


"That's why, in an individual sport, like tennis it's so important, to throw the team aspect in it once in a while because it really makes a lot of fun. Our American team is a lovely team. They are lovely young ladies. They are smart. They are they empower themselves. They are athletic. They've got great tools. They play great tennis. I couldn't be more proud of them."


Outside of the professional game, other events held throughout the week included a women's leadership luncheon and panel discussion, an all-girls' tennis camp for players ages 6 to 16 hosted by USTA Florida, two women's coaching education workshops presented by USTA-U, and an LGBTQ+ brunch on the tie's final day. Elevating women in tennis and championing equality for all is a crucial pillar of the USTA's broader celebration of the 50th anniversary of equal prize money at the US Open, which is being recognized this year. Current U.S. captain and former player Kathy Rinaldi says events such as these are integral to keeping the spirit of this institution alive well into the future.

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Billie Jean King Cup Qualifier in Delray Beach hosts women's leadership luncheon


"When I played for my country, it was some of the best weeks of my career, the most fun weeks of my career, just getting to know the players on a different level, having that one goal," Rinaldi said. "Also knowing that they were there to pick me up or I was there to pick them up. It's extra motivation. ... It brings back a lot now to be here as captain.


"These weeks are extremely special ... I hope these weeks are special for them because they were super special for me when I played."

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