BJK Cup: U.S. Goes The Distance To Beat Ukraine

U.S. Billie Jean King Cup team (photo: Mike Lawrence/USTA)

ASHEVILLE, N.C./WASHINGTON, April 17, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Host United States came into second day of its Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers tie with Ukraine ahead 2-0 in Asheville, N.C., and needing to win just one more match out of three to advance to the November finals. In the end, Ukraine left it all on the court following a pair of surprising upsets in singles, while the U.S. pulled out the tie in doubles and ultimately qualified for the Billie Jean King Finals.

Little did anyone realize that what had started as a one-sided tie Friday, in which Team USA won back-to-back straight-setters behind the efforts of Alison Riske and Jessica Pegula, would be extended to a fifth and decisive doubles match a day later to decide which team would move on to the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in November. After all, the first day went according to form for the 18-time Billie Jean King Cup champion Team USA.

However, that would all change beginning Saturday afternoon inside Harrah’s Cherokee Center, which sported plenty of fans cheering for both teams, thanks largely to a healthy-sized Ukrainian population residing in Asheville. Against a backdrop of war and devastation at home, Team Ukraine wore their hearts on their sleeves and let their racquets do their bidding.

First, Ukraine’s 93rd-ranked Dayana Yastremska set the table with her 6-3, 6-4 victory over World No. 13 Pegula in a battle of No. 1 players that finally put the Ukrainians on the scoreboard. She hit 25 winners, converted three of eight break points and outpointed Pegula 77-64.

“Today, I was more relaxed,” Yastremska said during an on-court interview, with a Ukrainian flag draped around her shoulders. “I was just fighting. I felt a little bit of pressure because it was an important win, so I just gave it my all.

“I’ve always been proud of my country and I’ve always been proud I’m Ukrainian – and I always like to represent my country.

“But now, in this moment, it’s tough to describe it. My heart stays at home and I really want to go back there, but my mind is here and I have to play.”

Yastremska added: “I have a responsibility on my sister It’s just super nice to be in a safe place here and to play in that amazing crowd with that great support. It’s nice to see Ukrainian flags everywhere.”

Next, 201st-ranked Katarina Zavatska kept Ukraine’s hopes alive after she pulled off a 6-3, 6-4 upset of No. 46 Shelby Rogers for a career-best win and her first against a Top-50 player. Zavatska broke Rogers’ serve five times in nine opportunities and won 53 percent (31 of 59) of her return points. She outpointed the more experienced Rogers 71-55.

“I cannot believe that I made it,” said Zavatska, still in a state of shock. “It was such a good match.I was in the zone completely. Shelby, she played well. Today I was really into it so much, every point, fighting like crazy. I just had all the energy from the crowd supporting me.

“They brought me so many emotions. It felt like all the stadium was for me even though we’re in the USA. It felt like such a big support for the first time in my life.”

Then, as afternoon extended into evening, the U.S.-Ukraine tie came down to a winner-take-all scenario in doubles.

When it was time for the doubles match to decide once and for all which team would win the tie and advance, both Yastremska and Pegula came back on court for an encore performance following their earlier singles tussle, as chosen by their respective team captains, Olga Savchuk for Ukraine and Kathy Rinaldi for the United States. Both captains made substitutions to their original nominations.

On one side of the net, Yastremska was paired with the more experienced Lyudmyla Kichenok, while Pegula teamed with Asia Muhammad, who was just added to the U.S. squad earlier this week as a replacement for injured Danielle Collins.

It was Muhammad, a 31-year-old doubles specialist ranked 36th, and Pegula who combined to stop Ukraine’s momentum and turned things in their favor. The American duo won, 7-6 (5), 6-3, in an hour and 33 minutes to give the U.S. a hard-fought but very satisfying 3-2 tie victory.

“I’m so grateful to be here,” Muhammad said during her team’s pre-tournament press conference a few days ago. “I’m so excited to just go out, cheer, whatever happens. I’m so excited.”

Excited off the court but steady on it, Muhammad, along with Pegula, combined to serve nine aces and won 69 percent (36 of 52) of their first-serve points. They broke their opponents three times and outpointed Yastremska and Kichenok 79-66.

After the match, Muhammad said: “I will never forget this moment. [My call-up to the team] was really, really last-minute. I was so nervous in the first set. I wasn’t really expecting to play today, but I’m happy we were able to clinch it. The support of our team wa amazing and to be able to look at them and feel them riding every single point with us helped a lot.”

Rinaldi added: “I am incredibly proud of the team. I couldn’t ask for more. Congratulations to the Ukrainian team. They brought it. It was incredible tennis today from them. They have to be incredibly proud of themselves and their team, but these two [Muhammad and Pegula] brought it in the doubles and closed it. I am super proud.”

After both teams exchanged hugs and handshakes, the U.S. team enjoyed a celebratory lap around the arena floor and each – Muhammad, Pegula, Riske, Rogers and Desirae Krawczyk – took turns carrying the American flag.


• While the U.S. has qualified for November’s Billie Jean King Cup Finals (dates and location to be determined), Ukraine will compete in the Billie Jean King Cup Play-offs, November 11-12.

• This weekend’s U.S. and Ukraine Billie Jean King Cup Qualifying Tie helped the tennis community toward its goal of raising more than $1 million for Ukraine Relief.

The worldwide tennis community is poised to exceed its goal of raising more than $1 million for Ukraine relief through its Tennis Plays for Peace initiative, thanks to more than $225,000 in donations generated surrounding the U.S.-Ukraine tie in Asheville.

Tennis Plays for Peace, which was launched last month by the seven governing bodies of tennis – ATP, WTA, ITF and the four Grand Slams of the Australian Open, Roland-Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open – supports the humanitarian relief efforts for the war in Ukraine with money going to Global Giving’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund.

The list of Billie Jean King Cup sponsors, as well as the partners and friends of American tennis, who used this weekend as a platform to donate include:

Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss, BNP Paribas, Deloitte, Fiur Productions, Flow Automotive, Harrah’s Cherokee Resorts, Hawk-Eye Innovations, Ingles Markets New Belgium Brewing Company, Mark Ein, SMT, and the USTA and USTA Foundation.

“The tennis community, it’s just incredible,” U.S. team captain Kathy Rinaldi said Saturday. “As I’ve always said, we’re a family. We really are one big family, a close-knit family. When things get tough, and we know the last few years have been really tough with the pandemic and now with Ukraine, we really unite, we come together, do what’s right, do what’s best. We really look after each other.”

Individual American donors also contributed to the fundraising campaign surrounding this Billie Jean King Cup tie. Anyone can still donate via