First ever Billie Jean King Cup begins in Prague

Petr Pála, Tereza Martincová, Markéta Vondroušová, Barbora Krejčíková, Kateřina Siniaková, Lucie Hradecká

The first ever edition of the Billie Jean King Cup, which replaces tennis’s Fed Cup, got underway in Prague on Monday. Why the change? And what has made the Czech women’s team so dominant in international tournaments at different times?

The brand new Billie Jean King Cup replaces the Fed Cup, which was first held in 1963.

The Fed Cup had been a happy hunting ground for the Czechs: Czechoslovakia lifted the trophy four times in the 1980s and teams featuring the likes of Petra Kvitová, Lucie Šafářová and Karolína Plíšková won it for the Czech Republic six times in the last decade.

Czech Radio tennis reporter Jaroslav Plašil explains how the country’s women did so well in the Fed Cup.

“The Czechs had very strong generations of players, who dominated the competition for some period, such as in the 1980s or even earlier. In 1975 Martina Navrátilová won her first Fed Cup title, in a duo with Renata Tomanová. Then there was a strong generation around Hana Mandlíková. We had Helena Suková, Jana Novotná… So there were always very strong players who made up a very strong team.”

Billie Jean King Cup | Photo: Ondřej Deml,  ČTK

The current generation’s success is linked to non-playing captain Petr Pála, who has been in the post for over a decade, says the tennis journalist.

“Since 2011, when there was the first title in Moscow, there have been six in total. I think that the support team behind the players provides a great atmosphere and service for the players, who have looked forward to Fed Cup weeks… It has been the case for a long time that Czech players – if they are fit – enjoy representing the country. Also there is their high level of tennis, and the large selection: The country could today select two or three strong teams, who could even meet in the final, if that were possible.”

The format of the Billie Jean King Cup, which was originally due to take place in Budapest in 2020 but was twice postponed, is markedly different from the old Fed Cup.

Jaroslav Plašil | Photo: Czech Radio

The new event features 12 nations in a weeklong “World Cup of tennis” format and culminates on Saturday at Prague’s O2 Arena.

Each country plays two group-stage ties to decide the winners of four three-team groups, who then advance to the semi-finals. All ties comprise two singles and one doubles match.

Jaroslav Plašil says that the Czech Republic – incidentally without star names Kvitová and Plíšková this week – would have preferred to keep the original format.

“It was discussed for a long time. People said the old system was unsustainable, though some nations, like the Czech Republic, wanted to keep it going. But officials said the home-and-away system was outmoded and ate too much into the tennis calendar – it wasn’t only the tie itself, it took a whole week, two or three times a year.”

Plašil says it also remains to be seen whether the new tournament will become economically viable, particularly in this Covid-hit time.