File Photo: Coco Gauff, of the United States, returns a shot to Aryna Sabalenka, of Belarus, at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament March 15, 2023 Ap
The No. 6-ranked Gauff, the runner-up at last year's French Open, beat Julia Grabher 6-1, 6-3, before No. 3 Pegula defeated Sinja Kraus 6-0, 7-5. At No. 78, Grabher is the only member of Austria's roster ranked inside the WTA's top 150.
The best-of-five-match contest continues Saturday with up to two matches in singles and one in doubles. If the Americans win any one of those, they'll clinch a spot in the 12-nation BJK Cup finals from Nov. 7-12.
There are nine qualifiers being held around the world on Friday and Saturday, including Canada hosting Belgium. Leylah Fernandez, the 2021 U.S. Open runner-up, gave Canada a 1-0 edge with a 6-0, 6-3 victory over Yanina Wickmayer. Canada's Rebecca Marino faced Belgium's Ysaline Bonaventure at night.
Earlier on Day 1, Barbora Krejcikova helped put the Czech Republic ahead of Ukraine 2-0 at Antalya, Turkey, then announced she would be donating her prize money to help earthquake relief efforts in the country hosting the matches.
A magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck parts of Turkey and Syria in February, killing more than 50,000 — the vast majority in Turkey — and leaving millions homeless.
“It’s very sad, and I would like to help the young tennis players that lost everything,” said Krejcikova, the 2021 French Open singles champion and owner of a career Grand Slam in doubles. “I have friends among the Turkish players who connected me with the Turkish federation. They have a project that they are planning to do, and I am honored I can help somewhere.”
She earned her first career BJK Cup singles victory, 6-4, 6-3 over Katarina Zavatska, after 2019 French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova defeated Marta Kostyuk 6-2, 6-1.
The countries were supposed to play each other in Ukraine, but the matches were moved because of the war there that began when Russia invaded in February 2022.
In other results: Reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina got past Weronika Falkowska 6-3, 6-4, before Yulia Putintseva topped Australian Open semifinalist Magda Linette 7-5, 6-3, to give host Kazakhstan a 2-0 edge against Poland; Caroline Garcia won in three sets and Alizé Cornet won in two — every set in each match went to a tiebreaker — to put France ahead 2-0 at Britain; Sara Sorribes Tormo's 6-0, 6-0 blanking of Fernanda Contreras Gomez helped Spain grab a 2-0 lead against visiting Mexico; Italy leads host Slovakia 2-0; Romania is up 2-0 against host Slovenia; and Germany and visiting Brazil are tied at 1-all.
The nine countries that win Saturday will join reigning champion Switzerland, 2022 runner-up Australia and one wild-card recipient at the finals.
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