The Billie Jean King Cup has resumed in typically dramatic fashion, with this weekend's eight play-off ties running the full gamut of thrills. Pitting eight losing nations from the 2020 Qualifier rounds against eight promoted teams from the regional Group I events, the winners all progress to the 2022 Qualifiers stage.
Poland d. Brazil 3-2, Bytom (POL, indoor hard)
POL: Katarzyna Kawa, Magdalena Frech, Urszula Radwanska, Weronika Falkowska (captain: Dawid Celt)
BRA: Gabriela Ce, Laura Pigossi, Carolina Alves, Luisa Stefani (captain: Roberta Burzagli)
The visiting Brazilian team defied the odds to push home favorites Poland down to the wire, with World No.326 Laura Pigossi's pair of three-hour epics worthy of note. Pigossi upset former World No.29 Urszula Radwanska 7-6(9), 3-6, 6-2 on Friday, and pushed Magdalena Frech all the way in a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(4) loss the following day. Teammate Carolina Alves, the World No.342, backed up the latter with a 6-3, 7-5 defeat of Katarzyna Kawa to force a deciding doubles rubber.
Frech was Poland's undoubted MVP, though. The World No.157 had kicked off the tie with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Alves, and after winning both of her singles rubbers clinched it by joining Kawa to edge Alves and Luisa Stefani 1-6, 6-2, 6-4.
Ukraine d. Japan 4-0, Chornomorsk (UKR, clay)
UKR: Elina Svitolina, Marta Kostyuk, Katarina Zavatska, Lyudmyla Kichenok, Nadiia Kichenok (captain: Mikhail Filima)
JPN: Yuki Naito, Chihiro Muramatsu, Shiho Akita, Himari Sato (captain: Toshihisa Tsuchihashi)
The final scoreline reflected expectations after a near full-strength Ukrainian team hosted a Japanese squad missing the nation's four highest-ranked players. World No.5 Elina Svitolina - the highest-ranked player in Billie Jean King Cup action this weekend - and World No.84 Marta Kostyuk kicked off the tie in routine fashion on Friday by besting Chihiro Muramatsu 6-3, 6-2 and Yuki Naito 6-3 6-3 respectively.
The 20-year-old World No.172 Naito captured attention on the second day, though. A former junior World No.10 who has won four ITF W25 titles in the past two years, including three on clay, Naito showed off a promising claycourt skillset in pushing Svitolina all the way. A heavy topspin forehand and dropshot proficiency took Naito to the brink of victory as she served for the match at 5-4 in the deciding set, but Svitolina's experience would ultimately clinch the contest and the tie 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(3).
Canada d. Serbia 4-0, Kraljevo (SRB, indoor hard)
SRB: Nina Stojanovic, Olga Danilovic, Aleksandra Krunic, Ivana Jorovic, Lola Radivojevic (captain: Dusan Vemic)
CAN: Leylah Fernandez, Rebecca Marino, Carol Zhao, Sharon Fichman (captain: Heidi El Tabakh)
Last February, Leylah Fernandez announced herself to the world in style by delivering one of the biggest upsets of the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers. As a 17-year-old ranked World No.207, she stunned World No.7 Belinda Bencic on the Swiss players' home turf in Biel.
That wasn't enough to win that tie, but Fernandez - now embedded firmly in the Top 100 - took another step forward in her development by leading her country to victory against Serbia. The 18-year-old Canadian No.1 won two high-quality three-setters 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 against Olga Danilovic and 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 against Nina Stojanovic to clinch the tie, impressing with her cool demeanour under pressure in both. Fernandez was ably backed up by Rebecca Marino, whose 6-4, 7-6(6) defeat of Stojanovic was the 30-year-old World No.230's first Billie Jean King Cup rubber win since 2011.
Italy d. Romania 3-1, Cluj-Napoca (ROU, indoor hard)
ROU: Mihaela Buzarnescu, Irina Bara, Elena-Gabriela Ruse, Monica Niculescu (captain: Monica Niculescu)
ITA: Martina Trevisan, Jasmine Paolini, Elisabetta Cocciaretto, Giulia Gatto-Monticone, Bianca Turati (captain: Tathiana Garbin)
It's been eight years since four-time Billie Jean King Cup champions Italy last lifted the trophy, but a new generation of players demonstrated the heart the squad has been known for in a thrilling away tie. Roland Garros quarterfinalist Martina Trevisan came into the weekend having won just one out of 10 matches in 2021, but saved two match points to edge Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-2, 2-6, 7-6(5) on Friday. At three hours and seven minutes, this was the longest Billie Jean King Cup singles rubber of the weekend.
The home team, captained for the first time by former World No.28 Monica Niculescu, hit back on Saturday as Elena-Gabriela Ruse pulled off a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 upset of Jasmine Paolini. But fast-rising 20-year-old Elisabetta Cocciaretto had kicked off the tie with a 6-1, 6-4 defeat of Irina Bara, and clinched it by holding her nerve to edge Buzarnescu 7-5, 7-6(5).
Kazakhstan d. Argentina 3-2, Cordoba (ARG, clay)
ARG: Nadia Podoroska, Maria Lourdes Carle, Victoria Bosio, Guillermina Naya, Jazmin Ortenzi (captain: Mercedes Paz)
KAZ: Elena Rybakina, Yulia Putintseva, Zarina Diyas, Anna Danilina, Yaroslava Shvedova (captain: Yaroslava Shvedova)
From upsets to comebacks, this tie had it all. Yulia Putintseva thrives with her back to the wall in hostile conditions: since 2019, the Kazakh has scored Billie Jean King Cup victories from match points down against both Katie Boulter and Ysaline Bonaventure in away ties. Down a set and 1-3 against Nadia Podoroska, Putintseva turned the match around for another on-brand comeback, winning 11 of the next 12 games for a 2-6, 6-4, 6-0 win.
But the hosts had a secret weapon up their sleeves. World No.430 Maria Lourdes Carle may not have been on the radar of many fans, but the 21-year-old was a former junior World No.9 who had gone on to excel in college tennis at the University of Georgia. Carle's junior career had featured two wins in two meetings with Elena Rybakina, at the US Open and ITF Junior Masters in 2017. On Friday, she added a third, beating Rybakina 6-4, 3-6, 6-0 to level the tie.
Rybakina, who had suffered health issues during that match, was able to bounce back to beat Podoroska 6-4, 6-4 the next day. But Putintseva was unable to clinch the tie despite leading Carle 7-6(3), 5-3. Suffering cramps as she tried to close the match out, Putintseva was forced to retire after Carle came back to take the second-set tiebreak 7-6(3).
It was left to Yaroslava Shvedova, captaining the Kazakh team for the first time, to seal victory. The 33-year-old joined forces with Anna Danilina to dispatch Carle and Podoroska 6-0, 7-5 in the deciding doubles rubber.
Latvia d. India 3-1, Jurmala (LAT, indoor hard)
LAT: Anastasija Sevastova, Jelena Ostapenko, Diana Marcinkevica, Daniela Vismane, Patricija Spaka (captain: Adrians Zguns)
IND: Ankita Raina, Rutuja Bhosale, Zeel Desai, Karman Thandi, Sania Mirza (captain: Vishal Uppal)
Hosts and favourites Latvia ultimately clinched victory by winning the first three rubbers, but not before a scare in the first of those. Jelena Ostapenko was made to battle for two hours and 25 minutes before overcoming World No.174 Ankita Raina 6-2, 5-7, 7-5.
But after the former Roland Garros champion had found her focus just in time to win the final three games of that contest, compatriot Anastasija Sevastova took control. The Latvian No.1 swept past Karman Thandi 6-4, 6-0 and returned the next day to dispatch Raina 6-0, 7-6(4).
Great Britain d. Mexico 3-1, London (GBR, indoor hard)
GBR: Heather Watson, Harriet Dart, Jodie Burrage, Katie Swan, Katie Boulter (captain: Anne Keothavong)
MEX: Marcela Zacarias, Giuliana Olmos, Fernanda Contreras Gomez, Julia Garcia (captain: Agustin Moreno)
The first day of this tie went to form with near-identical straight-sets wins for Katie Boulter and Heather Watson. Both Britons edged tight first sets before racing away with the second to dismiss Marcela Zacarias 7-5, 6-0 and Giuliana Olmos 7-5, 6-1 respectively.
World No.285 Zacarias threatened to derail the hosts' momentum the following day, scoring the second Top 100 win of her career with a 6-3, 7-6(1) upset of Watson. But Boulter restored order, needing just 66 minutes to clinch victory by defeating Olmos 6-4, 6-1.
Netherlands d. China 3-2, 's-Hertogenbosch (NED, indoor clay)
NED: Kiki Bertens, Arantxa Rus, Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove, Demi Schuurs (captain: Paul Haarhuis)
CHN: Zhang Shuai, Zheng Saisai, Wang Xiyu, Wang Xinyu, Xu Yifan (captain: Liu Shou)
A tie in which several of the principals had been struggling to find wins in 2021 saw Arantxa Rus and Wang Xiyu come away with much-needed confidence boosts.
Dutch No.1 Kiki Bertens had won just 10 games in three previous matches this year after returning from Achilles surgery in the off-season. The 29-year-old snapped her losing streak emphatically with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Wang Xinyu to open the tie, but received a setback after pain in her Achilles tendon ruled her out of the reverse singles.
Wang Xiyu's losing streak was even longer at six matches, but the World No.134 was able to end it against a familiar foe. Wang Xiyu's last win had been over Rus in the first round of Abu Dhabi in January. Though she had taken a loss to Rus in Lyon the following month, the 20-year-old triumphed 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 to take a 2-1 head-to-head lead and level the tie.
Wang Xiyu continued her momentum to defeat Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 the following day, but Chinese hopes of clinching victory were undone by an injury to Wang Xinyu, who retired trailing Rus 6-4, 4-3. With both teams switching up their doubles lineups for the deciding rubber, Rus paired with Demi Schuurs to dispatch Xu Yifan and Zhang Shuai 6-1, 6-4.