Three points from a wild comeback victory, Emma Navarro pulled off the shot of the day to help the United States take a 2-0 lead over Belgium in the Billie Jean King Qualifier match in Orlando.

Leading 5-3 in the third set against 19-year-old Hanne Vanderwinkel, Navarro ran to cover the Belgian’s lunging volley that landed deep in the deuce court. The ball was nearly past Navarro by the time she reached it, and she thought a squash shot was her only option. Her forehand chop somehow curled back behind her and whizzed crosscourt by Vanderwinkel, who was covering the line.

“It was do or die. I chose to do,” Navarro said.

The dazzling winner put an exclamation point on a roller-coaster Friday night at the USTA National Campus. On Lindsay Davenport’s debut as BJK Cup captain, both Navarro and Jessica Pegula survived scares from teenage BJK Cup rookies to give the U.S. a hard-fought lead in the tie.


“It felt like a lot of pressure, the fact that we didn’t really know them, everyone expects us to win. I was telling Emma that you have to take everything you think you know from the tour and throw it out the window of BJK Cup. Girls play way above their WTA ranking,” Pegula said.

She was right. Vanderwinkel and her teammate Sofia Costoulas played more like Top 50 players than Nos. 278 and 279 respectively, and turned in high-quality performances that gave the packed house two suspenseful, entertaining tussles.

Playing Pegula in the No. 1 singles spot, Copoulos, a finalist at the Australian Open juniors in 2022, came from a break down in the first set to steal it. “She was serving a lot better than I thought from looking up her matches beforehand,” Pegula said.

The world No. 5 eventually steadied, kept the pressure on, and pulled it out 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

“No matter the score, I just wanted to keep pressure on her, make her have to work really hard to hold,” Pegula said. “She might hold, but mentally that drains you. After fighting to hold so many times in a row, maybe you'll get a couple free errors when it gets later in the set, or maybe she gets a little tight or gets tired. I was just trying to stay in every single point and do the best I could.”

Jessica Pegula overcame a stern test from Sofia Costoulas of Belgium, winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Jessica Pegula overcame a stern test from Sofia Costoulas of Belgium, winning 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. 


Copoulos agreed that Pegula outlasted her, physically and mentally. “Physically in the third set I was getting a bit tired, which I don't have in the matches I play during the year. I feel like I really had to beat her every point and be very focused,” she said.

Pegula also got a boost from American players Ben Shelton, Mackie McDonald and Chris Eubanks, who cheered from Team USA’s bench during her match.

“Guys talk so much more crap and they’re so much more confident and out front with it. They'll tell you stuff and you’re like, ‘You know what, I am better than this girl,” Pegula said.

In the following match, Vanderwinkel earned a lot of fans with her fighting spirit. Strong serves and a slice backhand put her up 6-4, and Navarro took a medical timeout for a shoulder issue. A few points from going down 2-5 in the second, Navarro stayed calm and rattled off six games to go up an early break in the third.

Vanderwinkel battled back to even the set at 2-2. Facing break point at 3-4, the Belgian shanked an overhead that was sailing well long—but just before it bounced, it randomly hit Navarro’s leg when she jumped to try to avoid the errant ball behind the baseline. Afterward, Navarro said she can’t recall losing a point that way since she was younger and her brother would tag her at the net. “That was ridiculous,” she said.

Navarro hit the shot of the day in her 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 comeback against Hanne Vanderwinkel.

Navarro hit the shot of the day in her 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 comeback against Hanne Vanderwinkel. 


Vanderwinkel wasted the good luck with a drop shot error and a double fault to drop serve. Navarro held to seal the comeback 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, a remarkable win that continued her breakout year, featuring her first WTA Tour title in January, a win over No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka at Indian Wells, and a Top 20 debut.

“I’m always willing to make it ugly and get scrappy. It's great when you're playing well and things look pretty and they feel pretty, but it's nights like these that really count,” Navarro said of the match.

Earlier in the evening, Davenport had pumped up Pegula to get her energy going. With Navarro, she took the opposite approach.

“I was talking to her too much in the first set. I was like, I'm going to back up from this. Emma won the match herself,” Davenport said. “Both of these ladies got better at the bigger moments. That's all you can hope for as a captain.”

The reverse singles take place on Saturday, with the winner of the tie advancing to the Billie Jean Cup Finals in Seville, Spain, in November.