After its success in 2013 and 2014, Canada’s Fed Cup team was in unchartered territory at its first-round World Group showdown in February. But it wasn’t because the players weren’t familiar with the PEPS courts at Université Laval. For the very first time in history, Canada was among the top 8—the world elite!
Though expectations were high, 2015 proved to be a challenging season. The team faced a tough draw (the Czech Republic in the first round), Eugenie Bouchard withdrew from one of the two meetings and Aleksandra Wozniak was out with an injury. With 2016 just around the corner, here’s a look back on the highlights of Fed Cup by BNP Paribas.
After a quarterfinal berth at the Australian Open, Bouchard took a break and set the foundations of her training regimen with her new coach Sam Sumyk. Her absence gave two up-and-comers the chance to join the team. Françoise Abanda (18 years old) and Charlotte Robillard-Millette (16 years old) would take on the Czech Republic with veterans Gabriela Dabrowski and Sharon Fichman.
Abanda captured fans’ attention at a friendly match versus Montréal Canadiens star Tomas Plekanec of the Czech Republic just a few days before the first-round World Group matches were scheduled to start. Watch it here.
Robillard-Millette found out that she had made the team as she stepped off the plane after a long return flight from Australia. The news was an unexpected gift for Robillard-Millette, who had just celebrated her 16th birthday.
“I didn’t expect to be chosen. It was a big surprise, a great surprise,” she said. “They told me I’ll be a back-up player and I’ll do everything I can to help the girls prepare. I’m here to learn and gain experience,” she added.
Sylvain Bruneau selected Abanda and Dabrowski to play the singles matches against the Czech Republic, which has been a superpower on the women’s tour in recent years. In the end, Karolina Pliskova and her teammates overpowered the Canadians, who fell 4-0 despite valiant efforts.
After being thrashed by the Czech Republic, the Canadian squad was out to regain its spot in the World Group. But it was a tall order: the Romanians were tough opponents and had their share of fans among the members of Montréal’s Romanian community.
With Simona Halep’s withdrawal, Bouchard’s participation gave Canada an undeniable edge. But the homegrown star started making headlines at the draw, even before the first match had been played.
At official Fed Cup draws, photographers often ask the players who will be going head-to-head to shake hands. And that’s exactly what Bouchard was asked to do as she posed with her opponent Alexandra Dulgheru. Dulgheru put her hand out but Bouchard refused. Romania, of course, was offended.
“It’s nothing personal towards her,” explained Bouchard. “I just don’t believe in wishing my opponent good luck before the match. After we play, I will shake her hand no matter what happens.”
Following the affront, Dulgheru declared: “It’s a little strange that she didn’t want to shake my hand. But it’s her decision, and she’s free to do what she wants. It doesn’t really bother me.”
But perhaps it did a little, since the saga continued the next day as a bolstered Dulgheru routed Bouchard and even took a jab at her after the match.
The weekend of April 18 and 19 ushered in Abanda’s very first Fed Cup win. And the victory didn’t come against just anyone. The 18-year-old Canadian posted the most important triumph of her career against Top 40 player Irina-Camelia Begu in three sets (4-6, 7-5 and 6-4).
“I really wanted to win the match in front of my family and friends in Montréal,” said Abanda after the hard-fought duel. “I prepared seriously all week and I’m happy with the results. It’s good for my confidence and I’m sure it will help me in my career.”
Still, Canada’s two singles losses on Sunday sealed the deal for Romania, which moved on to the World Group. Bouchard fell to Andrea Mitu and Abanda lost to Dulgheru. Fichman and Dabrowski gained a second point for Canada in doubles but it was too little, too late.
In the next few weeks, the Canadian squad will travel to Florida for its annual training camp to prepare for its upcoming head-to-head against Belarus. The first-round World Group II showdown will be played on February 6 and 7 on the PEPS courts at Université Laval. The rosters will be announced in November but, judging by the talent of Canada’s new recruits, the nation’s future seems promising. In recent weeks, the under-16 team moved up to world no.3, and Charlotte Robillard-Millette (16 years old), Bianca Vanessa Andreescu (15 years old) and Katherine Sebov (16 years old) are respectively ranked world nos. 9, 21 and 25 on the ITF Junior Circuit. And until they’re ready to take centre stage at Fed Cup, we can count on our veterans to stand guard.