U.S. Beaten by RTF in semis
at Billie Jean King Cup Finals
Victoria Chiesa | November 5, 2021
Team USA's campaign for a 19th title all-time at the Billie Jean King Cup came to an end in Friday's semifinals at the hands of the team representing the Russian Tennis Federation, 2-1.
After the two teams split the singles matches—with Liudmilla Samsonova defeating Sloane Stephens (1-6, 6-4, 6-3) and Danielle Collins edging Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (6-7(9), 7-6(2), 6-2)—debutant Samsonova doubled up, partnering Veronika Kudermetova to a deciding 6-3, 6-3 win against CoCo Vandeweghe and Shelby Rogers.
"I think there's a lot of positives to take from this week. I think we had a great week coming into to competition, a great team and great teammates. I think that that's always a positive," U.S. captain Kathy Rinaldi said after the tie.
"We've had some great matches, some great battles we got through. ADVERTISEMENT We lost a tough one today and had opportunities, but credit to our opponents, who really stepped up. These are the weeks that we cherish and weeks we'll never forget. It's very disappointing. The girls are all competitors and they wanted to win that, and we felt like we had some chances to do that."
In the opening match, Stephens got off to the best possible start against Samsonova despite having lost both of their previous meetings. Playing her first singles match for her country, Samsonova sprayed 18 unforced errors to just two winners across the first seven games, but reigned in her first-strike, power tennis over the second and third sets to keep Stephens on her back foot and rally for the win to put the RTF ahead 1-0.
"The most important thing is putting points on the board for your team, and I wasn't able to get that done today," Stephens said after the match. "Overall, I didn't play bad and made her have to play better to beat me, and I think that sometimes that's just how it is.
"When you play someone like her, she is very up and down. You have to figure out a way to disrupt her game, and I tried a few things today. I did the best I could, and it was unfortunate that I didn't get the win. At the end of the day, when you play someone who is hitting those shots and able to come up with those types of winners and those serves, I kind of just had to deal with it.
"We had a good feeling that they were going to put her in today. I think the head-to-head really means nothing when you're playing for your country. There's a different type of pressure that you play with, and I think she did well to come up with some good tennis today and turn it around for their team."
In the match-up of No. 1 players, Collins quickly found herself down two breaks at 4-1 in the first set against the reigning French Open finalist, but pushed hard to wrestle away the momentum and secure victory from a set down in a staggering 2 hours and 42 minutes.
"It's tough when the team's 1-0 down and and you're not playing your best tennis from the start after playing lights out the last two matches," Collins said. "Whenever you're in that situation, it's especially tough mentally to try to work through that, especially when you feel like your strengths aren't working for you. I had to be really patient with myself. I really didn't feel like I found my groove until the end of the second set.
"I was also playing from behind a lot, which made it even more challenging. I just tried to be as resilient as I could and I tried to find a way. It required a lot of tactical work during the match: mid-match adjustments, technical adjustments, everything. My opponent was forcing me to play at a really high level and work for every single point. I didn't get many free points. It was very challenging, but I found a way to win."
Collins saved six set points in all in an opener that lasted over an hour, and had one herself at 9-8 in the tiebreak, before surrendering—but the marathon set, and eventually, her third three-setter of the week, took their toll on the world No. 12. Collins was the first to break in the second set to lead 2-0 but, crucially, later saved two break points in the sixth game that would've given the Russian a 4-2 lead. Racing through the second tiebreak, Collins won five of the last six games in the deciding set to send the tie to doubles.
"I think that was pretty clear that she was losing a little bit of stamina," Collins said. "She played a couple of tough matches and that can be challenging. I felt good. We had a day off yesterday and I felt pretty fresh and I actually, in some weird way, felt like it took me about an hour and a half, almost two hours to finally get warmed up. That was when I started playing a lot better and trusting my shots and playing the way that I normally play.
"I probably wasn't the favorite player on paper with our rankings, our comparison, and the year that she's had, but I've also been playing some good tennis. I had to just trust my abilities and go for it and I wanted to keep the team alive. I think when you're playing on a team, you have even more motivation to fight as hard as you can and and try to figure out a way to win even when things aren't working for you. Today was a really big learning experience for me... I like to be under pressure, have my back up against a wall and try to figure out a way to win and help the team.
"I think everybody respects each other so much and and we had a lot of fun in Prague, and so we want to keep this thing going and, hopefully, come out on top."
Team USA will now await Saturday's draw to see its opponent for its 2022 qualifying tie for next year's Billie Jean King Cup Finals, and whether that tie will be home or away.