Captain Alicia Molik backs Australia amid Billie Jean King Cup drama
Storm Hunter may miss Australia's start to the BJK Cup in Spain due to a WTA scheduling issue. Photo: Getty
Wily captain Alicia Molik is backing Daria Saville and Ajla Tomljanovic to get the job done after being left with only three certain starters for Australia’s opening Billie Jean King Cup Finals tie in Spain.
A scheduling fiasco and the weather gods have forced Ellen Perez out of Tuesday night’s clash with Slovenia, while newly crowned world No.1 doubles ace Storm Hunter was only due to land in Seville 45 minutes before the tie starts.
Perez resorted to asking for a ride on social media after losing the rain-delayed WTA Finals doubles decider in Cancun with her American partner Nicole Melichar-Martinez on Tuesday morning (AEDT).
Hunter made it out of Mexico 12 hours earlier after falling in the semi-finals but remains in extreme doubt, with Molik telling AAP the 29-year-old can make her own call about playing or not.
“I’m hoping she arrives feeling wonderful, but she might warm up and then I don’t know. It’s up to her if she wants to play or not,” Molik said.
“She’s experienced enough. I’m just conservative. If she doesn’t feel quite right, she’s got the right to say ‘save me for Thursday’.
“I mean, it’s 18-hour door-to-door trip so anyone can be forgiven for not wanting to play as they land.”
Either way the skipper has full faith that between Saville, Tomljanovic and Kim Birrell Australia has the class to prevail in the best-of-three-match fixture.
In fact, Molik has so much belief in the second-ranked Australian team that made last year’s final she categorically ruled out naming squad reserve Olivia Gadecki as a replacement.
Molik opted for Tomljanovic and Saville as the two singles players, with Saville to partner Birrell in the doubles – unless Hunter says she’s fine to take the court.
Tomljanovic will open the tie against Kaja Juvan, before Saville takes on Tamara Zidansek.
Saville and Birrell are slated to face Juvan and Zidansek in the doubles but if Hunter presents in shape to play, the captain will let the left-hander choose her own partner.
“She’s No.1 in the world. She can pick whoever she wants to play with,” Molik said.
“I’ll be on the court with the two singles players, so that’s something that she’ll have to quietly decide herself.
“Whatever happens, I think we should beat Slovenia and at some point you have to trust your players to make the right calls.
“But, as we speak, we only have three players here. We’ve only had three players since arriving last Wednesday.”
Molik’s dilemma is largely due to the WTA scheduling the so-called “women’s World Cup of tennis” in Spain just two days after the completion of the showpiece season-ending championships staged on another continent.
In a perverse way Molik says only having three players instead of five “makes your job easier”.
“You don’t have to drop anyone,” she said.
Australia plays its second tie on Thursday against Kazakhstan, with only the four group winners progressing to the semi-finals.
Champions seven times but not since 1974, Australia has made the semi-finals for the past three years and lost the 2022 title match to Switzerland.