USA set sights on qualifying spot for BJK Cup Finals

A strong United States team led by top-10 players Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff will target one of nine qualifying spots this weekend for the Billie Jean King Cup Finals.

Record 18-time champions of the competition formerly known as the Fed Cup, the USA will be heavily fancied to overcome Austria in Delray Beach, Gauff's Florida home town where she trains.

"We're not taking this lightly," said US captain Kathy Rinaldi, who can also call upon 2017 US Open runner-up Madison Keys and last year's Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins.

"We're going in prepared. We're going to prepare like we prepare for any other tie, not be overconfident."

Julia Grabher, the world number 78, is Austria's highest-ranked player, but the Americans will be on guard against an upset having lost their past two encounters with their upcoming opponents.

"I have great memories, of course, because it was a big surprise," said Austria skipper Marion Maruska, who was part of the team that beat the US in the first round of the 2002 event.

"The Austrians, the press, nobody came because everybody thought we were going to lose."

Defending champions Switzerland and 2022 runners-up Australia received direct entrance to the November 7-12 finals, which will feature four groups of three. A wild card nation will complete the line-up along with the nine qualifiers.

Ukraine are without Anhelina Kalinina but can turn to Marta Kostyuk — who won her first WTA title last month — and Dayana Yastremska as they play the Czech Republic on neutral ground in Turkey.

"It's going to be an interesting tie," said Kostyuk. "Most of the ties I've played we were favourites, and you know it's a bit different this time."

The Czechs won six titles between 2011 and 2018, and have former world number two and 2021 French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova headlining another talented squad.

Britain, who reached the semi-finals last year, are again missing Emma Raducanu for their clash with France in Coventry, leaving 138th-ranked Harriet Dart as their top singles player.

World number one Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic, who both helped France hoist the trophy in 2019, are part of the visitors' quartet alongside Alize Cornet and youngster Clara Burel.

Poland are without three-time Grand Slam champion Iga Swiatek against Kazakhstan as the world number one continues her recovery from a rib injury and infection that forced her out of Miami.

Bianca Andreescu and Leylah Fernandez will line up for Canada against an understrength Belgium, while Romania will hope to overcome the absence of key players for their tie in Slovenia.

Spain's top player Paula Badosa is missing for their encounter with Mexico, while Slovakia host Italy and Beatriz Haddad Maia leads Brazil into their showdown in Germany.

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