Australia set to bring their best as Billie Jean King Cup Finals begin
Led by retiring team captain Alicia Molik, there’s both passion and purpose as Australia launches its 2023 Billie Jean King Cup Finals campaign against Slovenia.
There’s already much to celebrate in a week of highs for Australian women’s tennis.
In the latest release of the WTA rankings, Storm Hunter sits proudly at doubles world No.1 after a career-best season alongside Belgian partner Elise Mertens.
Fellow Australian Ellen Perez, meanwhile, punctuated her career-best season with a runner-up performance in doubles at the WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico.
Yet another high beckons at this week’s Billie Jean King Cup Finals at Estadio de La Cartuja in Seville, Spain.
Led by Alicia Molik in her final assignment as the nation’s Billie Jean King Cup Captain, Australia aims to improve on last year’s runner-up performance to Switzerland.
“We’re ready to go,” Molik told tennis.com.au of the Australian team, which includes Kimberly Birrell, Daria Saville, Ajla Tomljanovic, Hunter and Perez, with Olivia Gadecki also travelling with the group.
“We arrived (last) Wednesday, so we’ve had enough practice time … we’ve had an incredible week.”
Indeed, there’s a strong sense of purpose and camaraderie as the second-ranked Australian team targets an eighth title in the world team competition.
There’s also confidence gained from contesting two finals (including against France in 2019) in the past three editions of the event.
“I think we always bring the best out in ourselves here at this team’s competition, because everyone loves it so much,” said Molik.
“We’ve punched above our weight for many years. I feel like this one’s no different.”
Spirits are far from diminished by recent injury interruptions for several team members.
“I don’t think you can look at our interrupted year of athletes and think our chances aren’t as good – I think they’re as strong,” Molik pointed out.
“I say that because also the format – the two singles and the one doubles. I think we have the best doubles team here in Ellen and Storm. And I just have a real sense of belief in the top tennis that Dasha and Ajla and Kim can play at their best.”
“And you know, personally I felt (after reaching) a couple of finals I want to go one better. It’s so hard of course losing in the final, but you know, it builds you up stronger. It reminds you of how much this does mean to everyone.”
Molik takes a similar view on Hunter and Perez’s unavoidably late arrival in Spain, after the WTA Finals schedule was severely disrupted by rain in Mexico.
Hunter, a doubles semifinalist at the season-ending tournament, is due to arrive in Seville today while Perez contested the rain-delayed doubles final alongside Nicole Melichar-Martinez on Monday.
“I’d rather have Storm and Ellen winning there and us dealing with what we can here,” said Molik. “Because Ellen and Storm have both had phenomenal years and Storm finishing No.1 – it just couldn’t happen to someone who works harder.
“She’s just been phenomenal with how she’s been chasing this, the determination and work ethic and everything (are) just incredible. I’m just so stoked for her.”
The Australian captain is equally delighted with the resilience displayed by Tomljanovic, Saville and Birrell, who have each overcome extended injury challenges to take their place in the Australian team.
“It’s amazing. This is a highlight for them all, the BJK Cup,” said Molik, noting that Saville worked hard to compete regularly throughout 2023, while a persistent Tomljanovic gained important match play in Guadalajara, Mexico, after a knee injury severely undermined her season.
“She’s always had this in her sights to be well enough to play the BJK Cup (and) she’s done what she could have done in the lead-up and to be ready for this,” said Molik.
“It means so much to them all and I’m especially proud of Kim, just recently reaching the top 100. It’s amazing, as a player when you hit that number, it’s kind of like ‘okay. I’m here’ … the rest is onwards and upwards.”
Those players will take that positive momentum into this week’s first Billie Jean King Cup tie against Slovenia on Tuesday. Australia also faces Kazakhstan in the group stage of the world team competition.
Molik expects Tamara Zidansek (currently ranked world No.98) and Kaja Yuvan (No.102) to lead Slovenia’s singles charge, with the Australian line-up to be announced ahead of the 10am Spain (8pm AEDT) start-time.
“I’m feeling really confident,” said Molik, who is also feeling only positive emotions as she completes a 10-year tenure as Australia’s Billie Jean King Cup captain, after announcing her retirement from the role in September.
“I’ve had so much fulfillment in this role, with the team and thanks to the team, the staff and the players,” she commented. “But I feel like I’ve given my best and they’ve brought out the best in me as well.”
You can watch Australia v Slovenia at the Billie Jean King Finals on 9Life from 8pm and 9Gem at 9.10pm.