October 23, 2021

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Japan must play BJK Cup playoff tie on the road

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(Photo: ITF)

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The revamped Fed Cup, now called the “Billie Jean King Cup”, had ambitious plans a year ago when it copied the format of the new Davis Cup and went to a neutral site final.

But it’s been nothing but a struggle since then because of the pandemic..

The first “grand final” in Budapest was set for April 2020 – cancelled.

The same teams were to gather again next month for a re-do – postponed by the pandemic.

And now, even though the playoff ties are still on for the weekend of April 16-17, the pandemic is still wreaking havoc on the schedule for several different reasons.

The first decision came last December, when it was decided to postpone the eight playoff ties from Feb. 5-6 to April 16-17.

That was supposed to be the weekend the grand final was finally to be played for the first time.

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Mexico must to go Great Britain

On Feb. 2, the ITF decided that a tie scheduled for Mexico would be relocated away – to Great Britain.

With the new strain of coronavirus, the conditions in Great Britain and the necessity to play the tie indoors there, it seems a premature move in retrospect.

Last week, Mexico hosted a successful outdoor WTA Tour event in Guadalajara, with limited but significant fans. The country has two tournaments this week, in Acapulco and Monterrey.

Its case numbers are less than one third what they are in Great Britain. And its conditions for entry into the country are a lot looser.

Finals postponed again

Then, on Feb. 18, it was announced that the finals would be postponed, future dates unknown.

But those playoff ties were still to go on.

As a result, the home tie for Argentina – its first since 2015 – against Kazakhstan had to be moved from Buenos Aires to Cordoba.

Japan must go to Ukraine

On Monday, the latest blow to a home team came when the ITF announced the home playoff tie for Japan would be relocated to away team Ukraine.

It will be played in Chornomorsk, which is just outside Odessa.

Billie“The Billie Jean King Cup Committee voted in favour of reversing the choice of ground for the tie, originally scheduled to take place in Miki-City, in the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan. While the state of emergency has recently been lifted in the region, it could not be guaranteed that exemptions to travel restrictions for international athletes will be reinstated in time for the tie in April. The Committee made this decision to allow Ukraine enough time to prepare to host the tie,” was the official statement.

The difference in the number of COVID cases in the two countries is stark.

In the entire Hyogo prefecture, there were 508 cases over the first two weeks of March. The Odessa area of Ukraine is counting at least that many cases every day. The curve is slightly on the rise, as well.

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Case totals are low in Hyogo, but entry visas remain uncertain.

And the area planning to host the tie is currently a red zone.

The Billie Jean King Cup also had to determine tie hosts ahead of time, regardless of whether or not it was that country’s turn, in Latvia and Netherlands.

And that’s two host nations now that will have to compete on the road.

Other host nations – Poland and Serbia come to mind – aren’t exactly flattening the curve, either. Poland is struggling more than Serbia.

Cases in Romania also are rising.

Who will play?

It will be fascinating to see how many of the more prominent players will be willing to go on the road that week, just before the European clay-court season begins.

Every week of travel during this period is fraught with logistical nightmares and uncertainty. And of course, it will mean yet an additional week away from home, trapped in a restrictive bubble.

Many, if not most, of the players are pretty much at the end of their pandemic rope.

Will Naomi Osaka go to Ukraine? Her last Billie Jean King Cup memory is a 6-0, 6-3 loss to Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain last year.

Will Bianca Andreescu go to Serbia? Will Genie Bouchard? (Bouchard has entered the 250 WTA event in Charleston that week and could be all the way down in Bogota, Colombia the week before that). We’re told that all the Canadians have “made themselves available”. But a lot can change.

Will Simona Halep play for Romania at home against Italy?

(Olympic eligibility rules, of course, play a role here).

Amid all the uncertainty, this re-imagined event may continue to get lost in the shuffle.