Praise for holding it in these difficult times but players bemoan packed schedule
The Billie Jean King Cup, whose maiden edition ended in Prague on Saturday with Russia getting the better of Switzerland 2-0, has reaped praise for actually taking place amid the Covid pandemic but also left a few questions.
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) revamped the original Fed Cup into a tournament, World Cup-like format, following a similar decision on the Davis Cup. It had to wait for two years because of the pandemic to see the maiden edition kick off.
But while ITF head David Haggerty hailed the event as an “outstanding week of tennis”, many players and fans were left with mixed feelings.
Only five top 20 players took part in the event scheduled for the week just before the WTA Finals in Mexico — even though the ITF raised the prize money to the Davis Cup level.
Ties often ended late at night and some teams bemoaned a lack of time for recovery in the packed schedule.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova praised the “exciting format” after Russia had reached the final.
“It’s better that you have everything in one place during one week. I find it different and fun and I like the atmosphere,” she said.
“I have found this format rather demanding, tiring, the days are long. Hyper-demanding,” said France’s Alize Cornet.
Czech veteran Lucie Hradecka, who finished her doubles rubber after midnight on the first day of the tournament, said she was “drained” after getting to the hotel at 2am.
“I took the entire day to recover. And thinking I would have to play the next day, that would not be ideal,” she said.
Sloane Stephens put on a more conciliatory tone, describing the tournament as a “work in progress”.
“There can be some things that we can change and adjust to better suit the players, not be here till 1am or 2 a.m. or whatever, but that’s just a learning curve for everyone,” she said.
Prague earned praise for organising the event on a very tight schedule after it took over from Budapest in the summer with the hope that local fans will provide the atmosphere the event deserves.
Lack of crowd
But fans were scarce for most of the tournament played from Monday to Saturday, partly because of the Covid restrictions in place.
Some 8,700 fans watched the Czechs lose to Switzerland in their last group game on Thursday in the O2 Arena, but a day later, only 3,500 turned up for the semifinals.
“I thought we had amazing crowds especially when the Czechs played,” said Billie Jean King. “I was amazed we had any people, if you look at most tournaments.”
But many opening ties played on workdays had just a handful of spectators, with the clatter of trolleys and cutlery from the skybox kitchen clearly audible most of the time.