9 November 2023 | AAP / Tennis Australia

Australia have been knocked out of the Billie Jean King Cup and will say farewell to captain Alicia Molik despite one final, stirring rescue operation by the indefatigable Storm Hunter.

Molik’s final act after a distinguished decade of leadership was to hear from the number crunchers and learn that Thursday’s 2-1 victory over Kazakhstan – courtesy of two more Hunter wins – was, mathematically, not quite enough to keep their hopes alive.

No-one felt more emotional than unbeaten Hunter, after her heroic jetlag-busting efforts with three wins since she made the transatlantic dash from Mexico as the newly-minted world No.1 doubles player to lead the side.

Still believing at that point there might still be a slim chance of qualification, Hunter said: “It’s just been a pleasure playing under Mol’ if this is her last tie. I’m going to get emotional now… ”

Molik, by her side, comforted her, saying: “You don’t need to, Stormy, champion. It’s been amazing.”

Welling up, Hunter continued: “Yeah, just wanted to make her proud and everyone else on the team proud.”

To which there was only one answer. “You do. You do. All the time,” Molik assured her.

> READ: Storm Hunter reflects on “crazy” ride to world No.1

She was right. Hunter is a star, her heroics only mirroring her remarkable performance when leading the team to the final in Glasgow last year.

First, she beat Anna Danilina 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 in the singles and then teamed up with Ellen Perez to deliver the crucial 6-1 4-6 [10-5] win over Danilina and Yulia Putintseva in the decisive doubles.

Molik had overhauled her singles line-up to promote world No.155 Hunter and the country’s No.1 Kim Birrell after veteran campaigners Daria Saville and Ajla Tomljanovic suffered straight-set defeats in Australia’s opening-day 2-1 loss to Slovenia.

Yet the move proved only partially successful when Birrell couldn’t overcome a woefully nervy first set, in which she served five double faults, en route to losing to battle-hardened Putintseva 6-0 7-5.

> READ: Alicia Molik’s proud Billie Jean King Cup legacy

For Molik, who completed her final Billie Jean King Cup assignment in Seville, there were nevertheless many positives to take from her 10-year reign as captain of the team.

“I’m pretty lucky, pretty fortunate to have experienced a few finals over the last couple of years. Women’s tennis in Australia has been, from a team’s perspective, in a really strong position,” said Molik, recalling Australia’s runner-up performance to France in 2019 and Switzerland in 2022.

There are also strong memories from representing the nation as a player, in which she formed enduring bonds with teammates including Rennae Stubbs, Nicole Pratt, Casey Dellacqua and Sam Stosur.

“My memories aren’t just as a captain; they’re as a player. A lot of those relationships in Fed Cup at the time helped form who I was as a player. They are always the friendships that I relied on through the tour years,” Molik added.

“I feel like that’s what the players have now amongst each other, but that’s something that they have created, a real credit to themselves. I’m not here with team success without the wider group and our team of staff. You know, they give everything for the players.

“It’s a real privilege to be involved with this group of women.”