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Friday, October 7, 2022

A Visiting Team That Is Unrivaled

Ukrainian comeback efforts had come up just short, and Dayana Yastremska and her four teammates were set to pose for their last official portrait at this Billie Jean King Cup qualifier in New York City.

Following the Americans’ 3-2 victory against Ukraine on Saturday night, a blue and yellow ribbon symbolising Ukraine had been stencilled into the tennis court with special permission, but it was now hidden by red, white, and blue streamers that had fallen to the ground as part of their celebration.

A few streamers were removed by the Ukrainians, with assistance from Kathy Rinaldi, the captain of the United States‘ national soccer team. The shot was taken as another official started to remove them from the scene, but Yastremska urged that they stay near to the ribbon for the image.

Because to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, authorities from the United States Tennis Association suggested to postpone this qualifying-round match. The Ukrainians resisted, but when it came time to book lodgings in Asheville, they admitted that they no longer had the funds to cover the customary expenditures associated with hosting a visiting team.

The Ukrainian players, all of whom still have family members in their beleaguered homeland, felt that everything had been done properly, from the informal dinner for the teams on Tuesday night at an Asheville restaurant to the moving a cappella rendition of the Ukrainian national anthem by Julia Kashirets, which brought members of both teams to tears minutes before the matches began.

This was partly due to the large number of supporters who had Ukrainian ties and carried Ukrainian flags. Christina Dyakiv, a 15-year-old student at William Floyd High School in Mastic Beach, Long Island, went to Asheville with her parents, who are of Ukrainian descent. Juliia Sherrod, a former top junior player from Ukraine who now resides in Knoxville, Tenn., made the two-hour trek to compete despite the short notice.

The Ukrainians came close to pulling off an upset in such an encouraging environment. Despite falling down by a set and a half on Friday, they won both singles matches in straight sets on Saturday. Jessica Pegula, the No. 14 seed, was often outplayed by Yastremska, a former top-25 player who is currently rated 93rd on the WTA Tour. Even more unexpectedly, Zavatska upset No. 46 Shelby Rogers, who was rated 201st in the world.

As a result, the last doubles match would be important, and Pegula and Asia Muhammad, who was making her King Cup debut, defeated Yastremska and Lyudmyla Kichenok 7-6 (5), 6-3 in the final.

Because they were unable to return home, the Yastremska sisters are still without a permanent training base, but they will go to Madrid to prepare for the clay-court season next month. While the Kichenok twins will be travelling to Stuttgart for a competition, Zavatska will be returning to Cannes, where she is now sharing a tiny flat with her mother and other relatives who escaped Ukraine.

After a week of bonding, culminating in a last night of karaoke with the Americans on Saturday, the Ukrainians will go, hoping that Asheville and the rest of the world would not move on too fast as well.

Dan O'Brien
I am a journalist for The National Era with an emphasis in sports.
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