Riske Captures Marathon Tie-Break, U.S. One Win From Reaching BJK Cup Finals

Alison Riske and Dayana Yastremska (photo: Mike Lawrence/USTA)

ASHEVILLE, N.C./WASHINGTON, April 16, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

American Alison Riske had just won the second-longest tie-break in Billie Jean King Cup history – and longest in singles – en route to garnering the opening match for host United States in its Billie Jean King Cup by BNP Paribas Qualifier tie against Ukraine at Asheville, N.C. Friday afternoon.

Yet, somehow, Riske maintained a sense of humor about it all at Harrah’s Cherokee Center after she beat Dayana Yastremska 7-6 (16), 7-5, which set the table for the Americans for the rest of the afternoon.

I’m just really offended that it wasn’t the No. 1-longest tie-breaker in history. I’m was just thinking as I played it that it really had to be something special,” Riske said with a laughter in her voice during her on-court interview.

While Riske and Yastremska needed about an hour to play the first 12 games of their opening match, it was during the next half hour that turned their tussle into a match within a match. That’s because the two sauntered on for 34 points to decide their first-set tie-break. The 43rd-ranked Riske saved four set points against No. 93 Yastremska and, finally, on the eighth set-point of her own she won the tie-break 18-16.

“I mean, it was just really a challenge,” added Riske, who at age 31 is the oldest player for the U.S. team. “Every time I play for Team USA, I want to win – and I want to win for my team. It’s always really special for me. I’m grateful for the fans here. Now, I’m excited to cheer on Jess.”

The 34-point tie-break marathon was second only to a 40-point tie-break between India and Uzbekistan in doubles that took place 18 years ago, back in 2004. However, it’s the longest in singles in the 59-year history of the event.

Later, in press, Riske added: “I was just really proud that I was able to keep my head in there and overcome that. There’s a lot of emotions going on. I want to win for my team. I want to win for my country. I’m honestly just very proud that I was able to do that today.”

During the two-hour and 19-minute singles match that paired U.S. No. 2 versus Ukraine No. 1, Riske hit 12 winners, while paled in comparison to Yastremska’s 29. However, Riske converted four of nine break points and took advantage of 40 unforced errors by her Ukrainian opponent, which proved a difference maker. Riske outpointed Yastremska 95-90.

“I think I played a pretty clean second set to get me to 5-1,” Riske added. “I felt my energy drop there a little bit. It gave her a little bit of momentum. She started swinging a little bit more freely, then it was very complicated.

“I’m just happy that I was able to have my wits about me and get through it.”

In the second match, World No. 14 Jessica Pegula hit 16 winners and added to Riske’s lead with a 64-minute 6-2, 6-1 win against overmatched 22-year-old Katarina Zavatska, ranked 201st, to give the Americans a clean slate 2-0 lead. The 28-year-old Pegula outscored her younger opponent 57-32.

“I don’t think rankings mean much,” Pegula said afterward. “All the girls behind me play amazing tennis have wins every week and I’m just really proud to be a part of the girls who are all playing really well right now.”

Looking ahead to Saturday

Team USA needs to win just one of the remaining three matches on Saturday to advance the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in November. In Saturday afternoon’s reverse singles, Pegula will play Yastremska in the opening match followed by Riske against Zavatska. If Ukraine wins both matches, it would be decided by doubles.

“Quotable …”

“I could feel the support from both sides. Obviously our hearts, the players’ and the team, Ukraine have been in our thoughts and our prayers and in our hearts.

“But we respect the competition as well. Once we’re out there, we’re opponents on the court, but we’re friends and allies off the court. That’s what it felt like.

“It felt like the players really left it out there today on both sides. That’s all you can really ask for. I thought the fans were really incredible for both teams”

– U.S. Team Captain Kathy Rinaldi on the first-day atmosphere in Asheville


There has been great spirit and camaraderie all week between the U.S. and Ukraine teams. The local population in Asheville includes 1,900 Ukrainians and many were at Harrah’s Cherokee Center waving Ukrainian flags in support of their war-torn nation.

“Yeah, there was a lot of Ukrainian people which were sitting behind our team. It was really nice to see the Ukrainians here,” Dayana Yastremska said in her post-match press conference. “A lot of people are from here. They were supporting us.

“I think for the crowd it was also pretty hard because they have to support [their] players but same time they wanted to support us. Even when they were supporting a lot the Americans, I wasn’t really angry or something because I can understand them. It was a nice atmosphere, one to remember. …

“We’re going to try our best [Saturday] to get wins. I don’t think wins here now is the most important thing. I think the most important is that we are here representing our country and we are fighting for those matches.”