Photo: Gibi Saini
by Mel Boyd and Kylie Walker
Team Canada presented by Sobeys fought hard at the Billie Jean King Cup qualifying tie on Friday, tying Team Belgium 1-1.
The top-ranked singles player in this weekend’s Billie Jean King Cup qualifying tie in Vancouver between Team Canada presented by Sobeys and Belgium was full value on Friday night as Laval’s Leylah Annie Fernandez defeated Belgian veteran Yanina Wickmayer 6-0, 6-3 to give the home squad an important 1-0 advantage.
Vancouver’s Rebecca Marino felt love from family and friends at the Pacific Coliseum despite the outcome of her match. The Canadian lost a tough battle on home soil to Belgium’s top-ranked player, No. 86. Ysaline Bonaventure.
The world no. 50 Fernandez came out swinging in the opening set of the first match and her game was firing on all cylinders including an effective serve, winning returns, impressive movement, and a backhand that had her opponent constantly on the defensive. So much so that she couldn’t muster a game against Fernandez’s relentless aggression.
It was more of the same in set two even though Wickmayer ended the Canadian’s string of consecutive games won at seven when she secured her first hold of the match to make it 1-1. Fernandez was unphased by the Belgian finding her footing as she continued to control the rallies and go for shots, especially down the line off both wings, that Wickmayer had no answer for. Her recent success in doubles with Taylor Townsend likely contributed to her success at net in the contest as she even employed the serve and volley tactic on several occasions.
In the end, Fernandez would only afford Wickmayer three games to wrap up a dominant performance from start to finish as her strong play while representing her country at the Billie Jean King Cup continues.
“It means a lot to me. Team Belgium is a super tough team and to get the first win was very important for us to start off the weekend and I’m glad that I was able to perform well and help my team as much as possible,” said Fernandez after the match.
Looking to give the Canadians a stranglehold on the tie, the No. 81-ranked Marino started the match strong, winning four first-serve points to take game one. She continued to look determined and relentless in game two, winning on her eighth break point. Bonaventure started to find her rhythm and battled to get back on serve after Marino took a 3-0 lead. But, after double-faulting six times, the Belgian was ultimately no match for the Canadian’s terrific court movement and smashing forehand in the opening set.
Bonaventure shifted the momentum and rallied in the second and third, where it was the Canadian’s turn to double fault six times. Although Marino’s 13th ace of the match gave her an early lead in the final set, she quickly found herself down 1-4. Struggling to regain her footing, she was broken four times in the last two-thirds of the match.
Friday’s highly-anticipated match-up was the fourth meeting between the Canadian and the Belgian. The pair last met in the second round of the Abu Dhabi Open in February, where Marino won in straight sets. The Belgian has now tied their head-to-head 2-2.
Team Canada continues the fight for a spot in the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup Finals tomorrow, needing two more wins to advance.
The singles players will swap opponents on Saturday. Fernandez, who lost her one and only meeting with Bonaventure in January, will look to flip the outcome for their next match-up, while Marino will face off against Wickmayer. If necessary, Fernandez will join Gabriela Dabrowski for the doubles rubber against Belgium’s Greet Minnen and Kirsten Flipkens.