Australia given formidable Rybakina test in BJK Cup
Australia's tennis women will have to overcome a formidable hurdle in the shape of Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina as they seek to go one better than last year by lifting the BJK Cup.
Runners-up in Glasgow last year in the event that doubles as the World Cup of the women's game, Alicia Molik's team were handed a tough draw for the 2023 final in Seville up against Rybakina-inspired Kazakhstan and Slovenia.
Seeking to win the tournament for the first time since 1974 when it was known as the Federation Cup, the Australians, second seeds for the finals, will have to win their group of three in the week-long event if they are to get to the semi-finals and then the final on November 12.
But Kazakhstan loom as formidable rivals, headed by the ever-improving 23-year-old Rybakina, the Australian Open finalist who is fresh from an Italian Open triumph which has rocketed her into the world's top five for the first time and stamps her as a potential winner at the French Open over the next fortnight.
She'll be backed by the considerable competitor Yulia Putintseva, currently 61 in the rankings, with the pair representing a major hurdle for an Australian team which will desperately hope to have their injured big guns, Ajla Tomljanovic and Daria Saville, fit again for the November 7-12 finals.
In the absence of the big two, Australia's top-ranked player is Kimberly Birrell, at 111, with Jaimee Fourlis at 150. Storm Hunter, star of their breakthrough week in Glasgow last year, is down at 202.
Slovenia, though, cannot be overlooked as they will probably be spearheaded by Tamara Zidansek, the world No.110 who reached the French Open semi-finals two years ago. They are fresh from earning a remarkable 3-2 comeback win over Romania in their April qualifier.
In what looks like the obligatory 'group of death', defending champions Switzerland, who beat Australia 2-0 in last year's final, have been drawn alongside former winners Czech Republic and the United States, the two most successful nations in the tournament's history with 29 victories between them.
Hosts Spain, Canada and Iwa Swiatek's Poland make up the third group for the event, while France, who have won the tournament three times, will face four-times winners Italy and Germany following the draw that was made in London on Wednesday.