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“I think it was ugly to be honest” – Bencic and Team Switzerland upset with late change by Russia ahead of Billie Jean King Cup Final

After falling to Russia in the final, Belinda Bencic and Swiss captain Heinz Guenthardt expressed frustration with the way Russia implemented a late personnel change.

Switzerland Fed Cup Russian tennis players won the women’s team competition, played for the first time as the Billie Jean King Cup, for the fifth time, beating Switzerland 2-0 after singles already in Prague, Czech Republic, November 6, 2021. (CTK Photo/Ondrej Deml) || 211924_0049 Czech Republic semifinal sport tennis

After falling to Russia 2-0 in Saturday’s Billie Jean King Cup in Prague, Team Switzerland expressed frustration with the way the tie unfolded, with regard to the last-moment substitution of Liudmila Samsonova for top Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Samsonova would clinch the tie with a three-set victory over Belinda Bencic, leaving the Swiss feeling a bit undone about the way events transpired.

The decision was made within the rules, after Pavlyuchenkova was assessed by an independent doctor on site in Prague and ruled out with patellar tendinitis in her left knee, but it left Switzerland wondering why the decision couldn’t have simply been made on Friday, the day before the final.

The switch allowed Russia better matchups

What’s interesting about the switch, and why Switzerland’s has issues with what happened, is that this was the only way that Russia was able to get Samsonova matched up with Bencic, a player that she had a 2-0 record against. Because Samsonova was the lower-ranked of the two Russian players in action on Saturday, had she been chosen during the original nomination (45 minutes or so before the change was made) she would have been drawn to face Jil Teichmann while Daria Kasatkina would have been drawn to face Bencic.

Switzerland clearly believes that Pavlychenkova never planned on playing and used the loophole to get the matchups they preferred. Russia denies doing this.

Matt Roberts of the Tennis Podcast does a good job explaining the details, and the rule, on today’s edition of the Tennis Podcast.

“The only way for Russia to match up Samsonova against Bencic today was in the scenario which played out – which was Pavlyuchenkova initially named to the team and then withdrawn in that final hour before play begins and Samsonova to come in,” he said.

Bencic: “We will come back and we will win this title”

Bencic didn’t speak for as long as Guenthardt on the issue ( more on that down the page) but the words that came from the Swiss star during press availability were charged.

“I think it was ugly to be honest and I just think in the end I think the good will win and we will come back and we will win this title,” she said.

Swiss captain Guenthardt was asked how he felt about the way the day unfolded at the start of the Swiss team press conference and immediately it was clear that he had a lot to get of his chest.

“Well it unfolded slightly differently, since we were told 15 minutes before the tie started that they switched No.1 player for their No.4 player,” he said. “Now I don’t want to second-guess it but some people might say that’s a smart move, now that’s impossible – because either she actually injured herself, that would be unfortunate, or they did it on purpose, which would be cheating.”

The Swiss team did not appreciate what they felt was a sneaky move by the Russian team, forcing Bencic to spend Friday evening and Saturday preparing to face Pavlyuchenkova, then trotting out Samsonova for the tie.

“The whole tournament has been held in a very good spirit. Did that throw us off? Yes it did,” Guenthardt said. He went on to praise the play of the Russian team, eventually, saying: “I have to say that they played really, really well – they were absolutely the better team. In the second singles, Samsonova came up with the goods when she needed to. … I thought that Kasatkina played an excellent match – I didn’t look at the statistics but she basically gave nothing away. So yes they played extremely well and they absolutely deserved the win because they were on the day the better team.” 

“It’s sad that we are actually talking about this,” Jil Teichmann, who lost to Daria Kasatkina in Saturday’s first rubber, said. “We should only be talking about the tie, how we played. As Heinz said they played awesome tennis and we have to accept that but still we’re here talking about something that has nothing to do with tennis, so it’s just sad,” Teichmann said.

Pavlyuchenkova – I already felt it yesterday

It’s no secret that Pavlyuchenkova has battled knee issues all season, and this weekend was no exception. The No 1 Russian said she did everything in her power to try to play, but in the morning she realised that she would not be able to give 100 percent.

“I already felt yesterday evening, but I wanted to try my best, and I tried this morning during warmup and I still believed that I could do it, but I just couldn’t even serve, so that was the decision,” she said.

Veronika Kudermetova confirmed that Pavlyuchenkova decided at the last moment that she would not be able to go.

“It happened at the last moment,” said Kudermetova. “Because Nastia she felt good, she had a good three matches, a very good quality and she wanted to play today because she is the first player in our team, and she tried to warm up and she started to feel the knee and it’s worse, she couldn’t serve, she couldn’t jump.

“Our captain he switched the choice, he switched for Liudmila, it happened on the warmup, it didn’t happen yesterday or the day before.”

The controversy was met with some confusion by the Russian team. In their mind they had simply replaced a player that unfortunately could not go. But the Swiss believed they went about it the wrong way.

“I think in sports, especially I’ve been there for a while, I think you have to learn and also accept to lose, and respect,” Pavlyuchenkova concluded.

“I think the rule is there, I think it’s fair,” added Andreev.

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