Photo : Paul Zimmer/Billie Jean King Cup
Last year at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals, Team Canada presented by Sobeys was able to make a statement when they upset the defending champions France despite being without their top two singles players.
Still, it was not enough to book Canada’s place in the 2022 finals, so on April 15 and 16, they will play host in a playoff tie with a spot in the Finals on the line.
This time around, Canada will have their top player as Leylah Annie Fernandez will be donning the red and white for the home team.
But their opponents are sending their star too. Standing between Canada and a berth in Prague are Team Latvia, led by a former Grand Slam champion.
Before the first ball is served, let’s have a look across the net at Latvia.
Much of Latvia’s hopes in the tie land on the shoulders of their top player, 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
Ostapenko has had an up-and-down career since winning her lone Slam title just days after turning 20. She reached a career-high ranking of No. 5 in early 2018, but has struggled with consistency, dropping as low as No. 83 in the world in 2019. She is currently No. 12 in the rankings.
However, the Latvian No. 1 has been resurgent so far in 2022, coming through a loaded field to win the title in Dubai, beating four Grand Slam champions in a row on her way to the title. She followed that up by reaching the semi-finals at the season’s first WTA 1000 event in Doha, taking out two more major winners on her way to the final four.
Ostapenko boasts a 32-17 record (18-12 in singles, 14-5 in doubles) in her Billie Jean King Cup career across 27 ties. She has suited up for Latvia every year since 2013, when she was just 15 years old. Latvia’s chances of reaching the Finals very well could come down to their star player.
At just 21, Vismane will be appearing in her ninth Billie Jean King Cup tie for Latvia. She made her debut in 2017 at just 16 years old.
Vismane has mainly played doubles for her country, putting up a 3-4 record. She has partnered twice with Ostapenko, going 2-0, and four times with Diana Marcinkevica (1-3). She lost her lone singles match in her debut match in 2017.
On the ITF circuit, she has three singles titles and two doubles titles. She also reached a W60 final, the highest level on the ITF tour, in doubles earlier in March.
The veteran of the team is Marcinkevica, who has competed in 32 ties, the first one being way back in 2009.
Marcinkevica, ranked No. 287 in singles and 236 in doubles, has an overall record of 23-25 in Billie Jean King Cup competition, 8-18 in singles and 15-7 in doubles. Her most recent appearance came in the 2019 World Group playoff, when she dropped a three-setter to Julia Goerges of Germany.
In recent years, Mecinkevica has primarily played doubles for Latvia and is the nation’s all-time doubles wins leader in the competition, with that match against the Germans being her only singles match in Billie Jean King Cup since 2017.
While playing most regularly with Vismane, Marcinkevica has teamed up with Ostapenko in doubles numerous times and the pair have seen success, going 8-3 with the most recent loss coming in 2015.
Semenistaja is the youngest member of the Latvian squad and will be making her Billie Jean King Cup debut.
While the 19-year-old may be lacking in experience on the WTA Tour, she had shown a penchant on the ITF circuit for clutch play in big moments. Semenistaja is undefeated in her career in finals on the ITF women’s circuit, a perfect 8-0.
She had a huge year in 2021, picking up seven titles, only dropping two sets in those finals. Semenistaja has one title in 2022 so far and is currently ranked No. 397 in singles and 508 in doubles.
The Latvians are captained by Adrians Zguns.