New era as France seek BJK Cup title defence in Prague

 - Alex Sharp

Julien Benneteau’s side head to the Czech Republic for the first instalment of the rebranded Billie Jean King Cup.

Fed Cup 2019©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

‘Be bold, make history.’

That’s the tagline and task ahead for players in the fresh, rebranded, reinvigorated Billie Jean King Cup.

Last Autumn the ITF announced that the women’s world cup of tennis, previously the Fed Cup, was renamed after Billie Jean King. The American is a champion on and off the court – having fought for equality throughout her lifetime. 

“There is nothing quite like the feeling of representing your country and being part of a team, which is why this competition is so special and important to me,” said King. “It is an honour to have the women’s world cup of tennis carry my name and a responsibility I will not take lightly. 

“Our job is to share this vision with future generations of young girls, because if you can see it, you can be it.” 

The inaugural edition of the Billie Jean King Cup also introduces a new Finals format with 12 teams, split into four groups, vying for the prestigious silverware at the O2 Arena in Prague from 1-6 November. 

Garcia Cornet Fed Cup Perth 2019©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Group A 

The last time the competition was held before the global pandemic, France lifted the trophy following a thrilling 2019 final in Perth.

Three members of that triumphant squad return, led by former world No.4 Caroline Garcia, who has 18 match wins for France, as well as Alize Cornet and Fiona Ferro. Former junior world No.1 Clara Burel completes the French quartet. 

The Russian Tennis Federation (RTF) side provide stern competition, boasting a five player Top 50 squad. 

2021 Roland-Garros finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has two appearances in Fed Cup finals to bounce off. The world No.16 teams up with Daria Kasatkina, Veronika Kudermetova, Ekaterina Alexandrova and Liudmila Samsonova. 

Canada have their work cut out to escape Group A amongst two of the title favourites. Without the Grand Slam pedigree of Bianca Andreescu and Leylah Fernandez, they will hope Rebecca Marino can replicate her excellent form from the play-offs back in April. 

Finalists Fed Cup 2019 Australia©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Group B

Now this is a formidable triumvirate.

Australia, the 2019 finalists and seven-time overall champions, will clash with 2017 runners-up Belarus and 2001 winners Belgium for a semi-finals ticket. 

In-form Ajla Tomljanovic chalked up a rubber win for the green and gold in the 2019 finale and spearheads a youthful squad in the absence of world No.1 Ash Barty. The Wimbledon champion is back home recuperating, giving the likes of Storm Sanders, Ellen Perez and Olivia Gadecki the chance to shine. 

Belarus might be missing Victoria Azarenka from their roster, but Aliaksandra Sasnovich has plenty of experience in flying her nation’s flag. The world No.86 has taken to court 21 times for Belarus and was a key component in their run to the final in 2017. 

Belgium have the versatility of Elise Mertens to boost their chances. The world No.20 in singles and No.2 in doubles will be eager to lead by example in Prague. 

Group C

Team USA always has a squad poised for a title charge. However, the most successful nation in Billie Jean King Cup history (18 titles) won’t be assured of a simple passage into the semi-finals.

Shelby Rogers, at the heart of their most recent trophy lift in 2017, replaces Jessica Pegula for the Americans, with former US Open champion Sloane Stephens and Danielle Collins will arrive bursting with confidence after clinching two titles in 2021.

Team USA will battle with five-time winners Spain and then Slovakia. 

There is a feel-good factor in the tight-knit Spanish quintet. Carla Suarez Navarro, helping guide Spain past Japan in the 2020 qualifiers, has heroically recovered from cancer to enjoy a farewell season. One last push for Suarez Navarro, who features with Top 100 talent Sara Sorribes Tormo and Nuria Parrizas Diaz.

Katerina Siniakova Barbora Krejcikova Roland-Garros 2018.©Philippe Montigny / FFT

Group D 

The fourth group is packed with major players. 

Hosts Czech Republic have been the standout team of the 21st Century, collecting six of their 11 previous crowns in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2018. 

Their chances of a memorable triumph on home soil are enhanced by a stellar squad led by Roland-Garros champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova. Representing her home country will bring back fond memories for Siniakova, who clinched the title for the Czechs in 2018. Marketa Vondrousova also left Tokyo with Olympics glory, taking home singles silver. 

On the topic of Tokyo, singles gold medallist Belinda Bencic will try to steer Switzerland into the last four in a talented quartet with Jil Teichmann, Viktorija Golubic and Stefanie Voegele.

The third side in the Group D gauntlet is Germany, with former world No.1 and three-time major winner Angelique Kerber set to ignite their title charge. 

Four fascinating groups, only four teams can emerge. Who will rise to the occasion to be bold and make history?