Photo : Matt McNulty
Team Canada presented by Sobeys has made history.
Following a clutch second match from Leylah Annie Fernandez to keep Canada alive, she and Gabriela Dabrowski were infallible in the doubles finale to send the team to the final of the Billie Jean King Cup.
Dabrowski and Fernandez defeated Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova of Czechia in straight sets 7-5, 7-6(3) completing the comeback and securing Canada’s spot in the finals with an overall 2-1 win.
Given Fernandez’s back-to-back performances, fatigue was an early concern, but she proved there was still a lot left in the tank.
Across both sets, Dabrowski and Fernandez’s serves were a highlight, holding nearly every service game except for one in the second. Their opponents, however, couldn’t say the same.
The first set was chillingly even, and it seemed like whoever made a mistake first would be the one to lose it. Both teams held their serves until the penultimate game when the Canadians converted a key break point to take a late 6-5 lead before once again holding to bring them within one set of the finals.
Both sides were evenly matched, and it showed especially in the second set, as neither the Czechs nor the Canadians were willing to give an inch. Dabrowski and Fernandez converted a break point in the seventh game but Krejcikova and Siniakova followed it up with a break of their own to even the tides once again.
Just when it seemed like a team had an edge, the other would climb back to keep the match rolling.
With the second set tied 6-6, Canada’s fate was then decided by a nail-biting tiebreaker that wound up going their way thanks to two essential minibreaks to create some much-needed separation in the late stages of the match.
Dabrowski and Fernandez converted their final minibreak to take the lead 6-3 in the tiebreaker and held their final serve to put the match on ice and put Canada in the history books.
A finals appearance may be a first for Canada, but the celebrations will have to be put on hold until they can finish the job on Sunday, Nov. 12.
The final tie will see Team Canada face Italy and the first match will begin at 9 a.m. EST.
Fernandez Synonymous With Clutch
Needing a victory to keep her team in the event, Fernandez delivered a win for the ages, rallying from a break down in the deciding set to score her first Top 10 victory since the 2021 US Open 6-2, 2-6, 6-3.
In typical Fernandez fashion, she took the game to her opponent, firing 27 winners but also committing 33 unforced errors. The match came down to the big points and that is where the Canadian played her best, saving nine of 13 break points while converting five of her nine opportunities.
Early service games were a problem for Fernandez in each set, but in set one she bounced back from saving six break points in her opening game to race out to 4-0 lead. Vondrousova managed to reclaim one of the breaks, only to drop serve as she tried to stay in it in the eighth game.
Once again, Vondrousova had some looks to break early in the second set and this time she did not let them slip away, returning the favour as she raced out to a 4-0 lead of her own. The Wimbledon champion looked the more settled of the two as errors started to creep into the Canadians game.
The early service problems continued in the decider with Fernandez again being broken in her first game. But this time she found another gear and reeled off three straight games to go from a break down to a break up at 3-1.
Everything seemed to be working for the Canadian, whose tactic of forcing Vondrousova out wide before taking an early ball up the line seemed to work every time she tried it. The Czech appeared out of sorts as Fernandez continued to make shot after shot to keep herself in front.
It looked like Fernandez’s effort may have been for naught as she went down love-40 serving for the match, but the youngster showed no nerves as she continued to aim for the lines and reeled off five straight points to score the massive victory.
Stakusic’s Perfect Start Snapped
Canada found themselves needing a win after Marina Stakusic was defeated by Czechia’s Barbora Krejcikova in the opening match of Saturday’s semifinal.
Stakusic fought hard in her first match against a Top 10 opponent, but could not find a way past the Czech star, losing her first match at the competition 6-2, 6-1.
Canada now needs to win both remaining matches in the tie in order to reach their first-ever Billie Jean King Cup final.
Krejcikova kept Stakusic under constant pressure throughout the match, creating 11 break point opportunities and converting five, while only facing a pair of break points on her own serve. The Czech also ripped 26 winners to the teen’s 11.
Playing a Grand Slam winner is a whole other game and was a new experience for Stakusic. It was clear right from the start that Krejcikova was going to be a much bigger challenge for the young Canadian as the Czech’s consistency and variety caused problems for the Stakusic, who was broken to start the match.
Controlling the points and seemingly able to hit winners on command, Krejcikova nearly made it a quick double break but Stakusic was able to settle down and managed to save the break points in the third game to stay within reach.
Despite looking more comfortable as the set went along, Stakusic was not able to find a way to break Krejcikova’s rhythm. The Czech broke again late as she took the opening set.
While the second set started the same way as the first, with a quick break for Krejcikova, Stakusic upped her resistance and was rewarded with her first break points of the match in the following game. The Czech finally blinked, missing a forehand to put the set back on serve.
Read also: Diallo Leads Canada Title Hopes in Calgary
But rather than giving the Canadian momentum, the exchange of breaks sparked Krejcikova, who won 10 straight points after dropping her serve to reclaim the break and set herself up to make it a double-break lead. The Czech won the last five games after being broken to put her country in front.