Australia’s hopes of making another Billie Jean King Cup race have taken a heavy blow as Ash Barty withdraws from the prestigious team event.
- Australia reached the final of the last Fed Cup competition in 2019
- Ash Barty still wonders if he will play WTA season-ending finals in Mexico
- Australia to meet Belarus and Belgium in Billie Jean King Cup Group B
Barty led Australia to the final of the last edition of the Fed Cup in 2019 before the first leg of the newly named competition was dropped last year due to the pandemic.
Now the Wimbledon champion and world number one has decided not to make this year’s final in Prague, almost certainly ending her grueling season.
Barty is resting after seven months on the road, choosing last week to skip the Indian Wells tournament and still hesitant to defend his late-season WTA championship from 2019, but is highly unlikely to do so with the rescheduled and relocated event staged at altitude in Mexico next month.
Traveling to South America would require a second two-week quarantine stay in Australia and seriously disrupt his preparation for the summer – and mainly his preparations for the Australian Open.
The 25-year-old’s decision to skip the 12-team Billie Jean King Cup finals from November 1-6 leaves Wimbledon quarter-finalist Ajla Tomljanovic in charge of an otherwise inexperienced Australian squad.
West Australians Astra Sharma and Storm Sanders will join Tomljanovic, 47th, alongside debutants Ellen Perez from Wollongong and Olivia Gadecki, 19, from Queensland.
Australian captain Alicia Molik sees Barty’s absence as a huge opportunity for others, including young pistol Gadecki, who rose from unranked to the world’s top 250 after a phenomenal season on the Futures and Challengers circuit.
“Ajla has had an amazing year and this is a great opportunity for her to lead the team,” said Molik.
“Storm and Astra are both excellent team players, and it’s exciting to welcome Ellen and Olivia to the team for the first time.
Tomljanovic recorded eight singles wins in her best Grand Slam season yet, reaching not only the last eight at Wimbledon – where she lost to Barty – but also the third round of the US Open.
Sharma won her first WTA singles title in Charleston in April and her second WTA doubles title in Guadalajara with Perez.
Sanders has also had an exceptional year, reaching the 123rd career career in singles last month.
Gadecki kicked off her stellar season with a victory over world number four and 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin as an unranked wildcard at the Melbourne Summer Series in February.
The rising Gold Coast has since won two ITF singles titles and five doubles titles to secure a top 10 position for Australian women in singles and doubles.
Australia were named in Group B alongside Belarus and Belgium.
The format of the event will be a round robin with the four group winners competing in the semi-finals for a place in the final.
Each draw consists of two singles matches and one doubles match.