The draw for the Fed Cup World Group II first round was done Friday at the Maaspoort arena in Den Bosch and Canadian No. 1 Bianca Andreescu will play the opening match on Saturday at 1 p.m. (7 a.m. ET in Canada) against the Netherlands No. 2 player Richel Hogenkamp.
They will be followed in the second match by Dutch No. 1 Arantxa Rus versus Canadian No. 2 Francoise Abanda.
There were no surprises in naming of the singles players and it was basically the same in the doubles as Canadian captain Heidi El Tabakh picked Gabriela Dabrowski and Andreescu as her doubles team to face Demi Schuurs and Bibiane Schoofs of the Netherlands in the fifth and final match if necessary.
“I have no problem,” No. 70-ranked Andreescu said about starting first against No. 150 Hogenkamp. “It is what it is – hopefully I can start off the day well.”
As for El Tabakh, she said, “both girls are ready to go. To us it doesn’t matter who goes first or second.”
This is just the first time Andreescu has played as the Canadian No. 1 and she was asked about it by a Dutch reporter. “There’s obviously more tension but I try to use that to my advantage,” she said. “All I can say is I’m very lucky to be part of this team with such amazing women by my side and I’m really excited for this weekend.”
Last year Hogenkamp beat Andreescu in the qualifying at the French Open before Andreescu returned the favour in the qualifying at the National Bank Challenger in Saguenay, Que., in October.
As it was at Roland Garros last May, the match-up Saturday is on red clay, albeit indoors. “I really like it,” Andreescu said about the surface in the Maaspoort arena, “it’s faster than most clay courts I’ve played on. It suits my game-style and everyone else’s too.”
Rebecca Marino, who could play singles on the second day if required, said about the clay, “I’ve never played on an indoor red clay court. It’s kind of a new thing for me. But we’re all getting pretty used to it.”
About possibly having to play, Marino added, “I’m totally ready. I’m actually really comfortable on these clay courts. My best Grand Slam result (third round at the 2011 French Open) was on clay.”
The 26-year-old Hogenkamp understands she may be seeing a new Andreescu when they clash Saturday. “We had two tough battles,” she said about her matches with the 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., in 2018, “one on clay and one on hard court. But I think that she’s a little different now than she was a year back or even a few months back. I think she’s been playing very good in the beginning of the year. So we’re hoping, with the support of our home crowd, that we can have a tough match tomorrow.”
Abanda and Rus, a lefthander, will be meeting for the first time.
“I’ve never played her,” said the just turned 22 Abanda about the 28-year-old Rus, “it’s going to a good match for me and I’m excited to play second too because I always play first match. It’s a nice change.”
The last time Abanda played Fed Cup – or at least was scheduled to play – was in the World Group II Playoff last April against Ukraine in Montreal. She accidentally fell doing a little warm-up minutes before her match with Lesia Tsurenko was to start. She hit her head and couldn’t play, having to be replaced by Andreescu and being unable to play the rest of the weekend.
On Friday she made light of that unlikely, fateful situation. Smiling and looking at Marino seated near her, she joked, “anything can happen … so Rebecca be ready.”
While Rus has never played Abanda, Hogenkamp beat her twice – in 2016 in Puebla, Mexico, and in 2018 in the Indian Wells qualifying. “I’ve played her two times both on hard courts,” Hogenkamp said by way of scouting report. “I think she will start aggressive, that’s the way she likes to play. So I think we’re going to have to make a plan tonight.”
The doubles in Fed Cup is the final match of five, unlike Davis Cup where it’s in the middle after the first two singles. Dabrowski would like to see that changed.
“I would prefer if it was the same way as the Davis Cup have with their format,” she said, “because then it plays a really key role in the tie regardless of what happens before and after. I wish it was formatted differently for sure.”
Last April against Ukraine in Montreal, Dabrowski and Andreescu combined to get the third and decisive victory in the fifth match in the Canadian win over Ukraine. “We left our hearts out there the last time we played in Montreal,” she recalled about that experience. “So if we play, or if I play with anyone else, I’m sure we’ll do the same and hopefully it goes in our favour.”
Dabrowski is ranked No. 10 while her doubles-specialist counterpart on the Dutch team, Demi Schuurs, is No. 7. “It’s clear that Gaby will play and I don’t know who’s going to play with her,” Schuurs said about possible match-ups. “And for us it’s the same. It depends on the score. We will see.”
Captain El Tabakh, 32, summed up her feelings about her first tie as captain saying, “I’m confident in my players. All they can do is go out there and give 100 per cent. That’s all I ask from them.”
Below are the four World Group ties also going on this weekend. The losers of these ties would likely – but not for sure because new rankings are done after the results of this round – play the four winners of the World Group II ties, including Canada vs. the Netherlands in Den Bosch, in a World Group I playoff round in April.
ROMANIA vs. CZECH REPUBLIC – Ostrava, Czech Republic
The respective No. 1 players are No. 3 Simona Halep and No. 5 Karolina Pliskova.
FRANCE vs. BELGIUM – Liege, Belgium.
The respective No. 1 players are No. 19 Caroline Garcia and No. 21 Elise Mertens.
BELARUS vs. GERMANY – Braunschweig, Germany.
The respective No. 1 players are No. 9 Aryna Sabalenka and No. 67 Tatjana Maria.
AUSTRALIA vs. UNITED STATES – Asheville, U.S.A.
The respective No. 1 players are No. 13 Ashleigh Barty and No. 17 Madison Keys.
If Canada loses against the Netherlands, it will play a winning team from the zonal competitions also taking place this weekend. That would be in April. No matter what happens, Canada’s next opponent will be determined by a draw at International Tennis Federation headquarters in London on February 12.
This is an unlikely sight right in the middle of the central Rotterdam commercial district – a store that is more than familiar to Canadians.
Feature Photo: Mauricio Paiz