From left to right: Heidi El Tabakh, Gabriela Dabrowski, Leylah Fernandez, Katherine Sebov, and Rebecca Marino hold up a sign that reads "QUALIFIED"

Photo : Jordan Leigh

by Mel Boyd and Kylie Walker

Team Canada presented by Sobeys is off to the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in November. Canada’s top women have clinched their spot after Leylah Annie Fernandez and Gabriela Dabrowski put on a show-stopping doubles performance to beat Team Belgium 3-2.

The pair dominated Belgium’s Greet Minnen and Kirsten Flipkens on Saturday night, taking the decisive match 6-1, 6-2.

This was Fernandez’s second win of the day. The 20-year-old from Laval, Que., had a slow start to her first match but rallied to defeat Belgium’s No. 1 Ysaline Bonaventure and give Canada a 2-1 lead.

Minnen had just come off a win, reigning victorious in a back-and-forth battle against Toronto’s Katherine Sebov.

Fernandez and Dabrowski were dynamic from the get-go. Working well together early in the match, they needed just 25 minutes to take the first set. Thanks to Fernandez’s powerful serve, the pair won 76 per cent of their first serve points and 100 per cent of their second. Dabrowski was locked in the entire time, covering the court well to ensure the Belgians had no opportunities to win a break point in the first set.

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The Canadians continued to capitalize on their momentum in the second, never giving up the lead and breaking their opponent twice. Fernandez’s second ace of the day denied Minnen and Flipkens their chance at a break in the sixth game and helped the pair take the match in straight sets.

Both Canadians are ranked in the Top 50 for doubles. Dabrowski is currently No. 7 and has won 13 career titles. No. 38, Fernandez played in her first WTA 1000 doubles final last month with American Taylor Townsend. The pair fell just short to the second-seeded American duo Coco Gauff and Jessica Pegula.

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After cruising in Friday’s opening match of the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers, it was all guts and heart for Fernandez in Saturday’s opening match as she pulled off a dramatic 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory over Bonaventure.

The tables turned for the 20-year-old Canadian after she won the opening set 6-0 on Friday against Yanina Wickmayer in a match where she faced just two break point chances on her serve. Less than 24 hours later, she quickly found herself down 0-4 and two breaks in the first set on day two as Bonaventure dictated proceedings with her powerful groundstrokes off both wings. Fernandez needed eight break point chances in her return games before converting her first, but it wasn’t enough to get herself back in the set.

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The Laval native made some adjustments that paid off in a big way in the second frame. Her recent doubles success served her well once again as she moved forward to the net as much as she could finish off points with winning volleys and also snuck in a few effective drop shots that surprised Bonaventure. Fernandez found herself down a break 2-3 but fought her way back in impressive fashion to force a decisive third set thanks to another break of serve in the twelfth game.   

She carried her momentum into the final frame as she jumped out to a 3-0 lead as the great crowd support had her adrenaline pumping. She was able to cause more damage with her forehand, backhand, and serve as Bonaventure started to fade physically after logging some serious court time over the last two days. Fernandez earned an insurance break and that was all she needed to come out on top in a thrilling contest after converting her fourth match point. In the process, she avenged the loss she suffered at the hands of Bonaventure earlier this season in the Auckland quarter-finals.

Trying to keep Team Belgium alive, Minnen found her momentum early, breaking the 24-year-old from Toronto in the first game and quickly taking a 5-1 lead. Sebov started to find her own rhythm in the seventh but was no match for the Belgian, who broke her opponent three times and won 75 per cent of her first serve points in the set.

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It became a different story for the Canadian midway through the second set. Determined to flip the script, Sebov rightly challenged the call on a Belgium breakpoint opportunity to take the fifth game and a 3-2 lead. She used her powerful serves to her advantage, missing only four in the entire set.

Keeping her focus and energy up in the decider, Sebov broke the Belgian in the first game and denied her opponent the opportunity a triple break point. But the Belgian came back swinging, breaking the Canadian three times to take the third set in this back-and-forth battle.

Saturday’s match was the first face-off between the 24-year-old from Toronto and the Belgian.

Sebov has had a breakout season, reaching a career-high ranking of No. 136 and qualifying for the main draw of the Australian Open in early 2023. She scored her first career WTA 1000 victory just last month, defeating Linda Fruhvirtova of Czechia 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 in the first round of the Miami Open.

Team Canada continues their journey at the Billie Jean King Cup in November. They will be joining the other eight winners of the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers, one wild card and the two 2022 finalists. The location of the finals is yet to be announced.