Saturday, November 6, 2021

Russia wins Billie Jean King Cup for the fifth time

Every Billie Jean King Cup (formerly Fed Cup) produces a few stand-out players. With all of the rubbers being played together in a round robin format (more on that later), it was hard to keep up. But one name that will certainly linger is Liudmilla Samsonova, the young Russian who had the heavy task of going in as a substitute in the final when countrywoman Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova had to withdraw because of an injury.

Russia's opponent in the final was Switzerland, led by Olympic gold medal winner Belinda Bencic. Bencic took the first set, and Samsonova--who displayed the grit of Flavia Pennetta and the game face of Elena Vesnina--practically willed herself through the second set with a victory. Samsonova's serve was very much her friend today, but it's good to have more than one friend, and her other close ally was her raw determination.

The final four teams were Russia, Switzerland, Australia and the USA. Russia (with help from Samsonova, who defeated Sloane Stephens, and--with a red hot Veronika Kudermetova--defeated the USA doubles team) knocked out the USA, and Switzerland eliminated the Australian team. In the first rubber of the final, Dasha Kasatkina defeated Jill Teichmann in straight sets, then Samsonova and Bencic went at each other for almost two and a half hours.

The last time Russia won the Cup was in 2008. They did play in the 2015 final, but were defeated by eleven-time champions Czech Republic. 

The competition's format was changed because it was difficult for many players to commit to playing three times a year, in a quarterfinal, semifinal and final tie. Of course, Fed Cup was much more complicated than that, what with the different groups providing opportunities for countries to get into the elite World Group. 

Changing the format to a one-week round robin event did indeed streamline it, but it has made it much harder for fans to participate. With everyone playing pretty much at the same time, there are fewer opportunities than ever to watch the matches. And seeking information about anything is even harder than it used to be. The Fed Cup app was always pretty bad; the Billie Jean King Cup app is useless. And, whereas the Fed Cup website was excellent, the Billie Jean King Cup website is one of the least user-friendly websites I've ever seen. I gave up.

The only good thing is that Tennis Channel Plus (kind of) picked up the event, meaning that we didn't have to rely on Fed Cup TV. I never cared for Fed Cup TV because of the technical issues. But last year, there were other issues. All of the ties were blocked in the U.S., except for USA team ties, which I didn't need Fed Cup TV to watch. I asked for my subscription fee back, and each body I asked said "Oh, we don't do that--you have to talk to these people." This went on and on for months.

I recently decided to pick up where I left off, and--once again--I got "Oh, we can't do that--someone else has to help you," but I was having none of it. I'm finally getting my refund, but this was some of the worst "customer service" I've ever received (like, a 9 on the Sony scale).

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