Entering the concluding day of the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifying with a 2-0 deficit, Team Ukraine delivered impressive and inspiring performances to level with the United States at 2-2 and force the fifth and decisive doubles match. In the end, the host nation prevailed as Jessica Pegula and Asia Muhammad recorded a 7-6(5) 6-3 victory over Lyudmyla Kichenok and Dayana Yastremska inside the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville, N.C.
In Saturday’s reverse singles, Dayana Yastremska defeated Jessica Pegula 6-3 6-4 and Katarina Zavatska beat Shelby Rogers 6-3 6-4 to earn two points for Ukraine. The pressure was on, but as Jessica Pegula quoted Billie Jean King herself, “pressure is a privilege”, and the USA doubles team pulled off a decisive victory in the fifth match this weekend.
The USA captain Kathy Rinaldi explained that everybody in her team is a good doubles player and her hard decision came down to matching the players energetically:
You just try to put together the best team that you possibly can with the best chemistry. […] My gut told me to go with Jess and Asia. They’ve played together. They know each other’s games. They’ve had some great results together this year. Asia has had a tremendous year this year. I thought, you know what, that’s our team. I’m glad I did. They did great.
You know what? We’re only as good as our team chemistry. The girls really came out and supported them after a long, tough day. That’s what great teams do. Really proud of this team. Really proud how they supported each other (tearing up). When I say we had each other’s backs, they really did have each other’s backs.
Asia Muhammad said that she’s had the time of her life with her team mates:
Especially this team that I’ve had this week, it’s been the most fun. When I tell you guys I’ve not had this much fun, ever. It’s been the greatest week (laughter). It’s been the greatest week with all of these girls, on court, off court. Today, just having the girls on the sideline, it’s been so much fun. I’m really grateful to be able to be here.
The United States joins fellow qualifiers Italy, Kazakhstan, Canada, Czech Republic, Belgium and Poland, and Australia, Slovakia, Belgium and Switzerland, all of which received automatic bids, in the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup Finals in November, which will be played at a site to be announced.
The tie in Asheville generated more than $225,000 in donations to Ukraine relief, as the global tennis community is set to exceed its goal of raising more than $1 million for the Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund via the Tennis Plays for Peace initiative.
Two huge upsets by much lower ranked Ukraine players over the US were the highlight of Saturday’s matches. It was an honor to be with the Ukrainians at this venue!