Photo : Jordan Leigh
Déjà-vu is a strange part of the human existence, but is not always a bad thing.
For Heidi El Tabakh, captain of Team Canada presented by Sobeys at their upcoming Billie Jean King Cup qualifying tie, she is very much enjoying her déjà-vu upon her return to Vancouver.
“It honestly feels so great to be back here in Vancouver, it’s starting to feel like home,” said El Tabakh in her pre-tie press conference on Tuesday. “It’s my second tie in Canada and both ties have been in Vancouver. It’s been great to have the home support and a lot of familiar faces. It’s wonderful. I love this city. Everything has been great.”
Canada is hosting Belgium on Friday and Saturday with a spot in November’s Finals on the line. A year ago, the Canadians swept Latvia at the same stage in the very same venue, the Pacific Coliseum.
Despite being without Bianca Andreescu, the Canadians are still boasting a strong squad led by Leylah Annie Fernandez, Rebecca Marino, and Gabriela Dabrowski, all of whom were a part of the team that dominated in Vancouver a year ago.
Katherine Sebov rounds out the squad as a replacement for Andreescu.
“I have full trust in my team,” said El Tabakh, whose players are coming in with momentum after strong results to start 2023. “I think that it’s good to have recent results. Players have confidence, I have confidence in them as well. I think that they make a great team.”
Belgian captain Wim Fissette expressed similar sentiments about his own squad, saying “I’m really happy with the team we have here. We have a lot of girls who started the year really well. I also believe that confidence is a huge factor in success in women’s tennis and that we have a good chance.”
All three previous meetings in Billie Jean King Cup/Fed Cup competition between the two nations have been won by Belgium, but the last meeting was 14 years ago in 2009.
Fissette acknowledged that the history does not matter much, saying “every meeting in Billie Jean King Cup is separate, special. It always depends also which team you face. Obviously, Canada is a very strong team.”
Read and listen: Katherine Sebov interview on Match Point Canada
Kirsten Flipkens was a member of the 2009 squad that edged Canada 3-2 in Hasselt, the city where Fissette currently resides. When asked about that victory, Flipkens admitted that it does not hold much place in her memory.
“I’ve played 30-something so honestly when you said the last time we faced each other I had to go back but I don’t remember anything about that tie,” said Flipkens with a laugh.
She asked what the score of that tie was and when she was told Belgium had won 3-2, she replied with a smile “Oh really? I hope we get that number again this week.”
Fissette chimed in, “I live in Hasselt but I didn’t know there was this meeting. But good to know.”
So maybe don’t read to much into Canada and Belgium’s history in this competition.
Read more: Canada looks to repeat in Vancouver
All four players on Team Canada are facing the Belgians for the first time. This does not concern El Tabakh, who said of her team “we have a lot of depth in our players. I feel one of the main advantages that we have is that all the girls are mentally tough I think at the end of the day everyone plays incredible tennis and to have that toughness or to have that edge is what makes a difference in the result.”
Leylah Annie Fernandez will be the Canadian No. 1 this week, a position El Tabakh thinks she will relish.
“[Leylah] has a ton of experience and she’s been in that position a few times already. She’s very, very mature and confident and she handles pressure extremely well. This won’t be her first tie but at the end of the day she comes out here and she actually gains a lot of energy and momentum from the crowd so she definitely uses that to her advantage.”
Only one member of Team Canada is a local in Vancouver, that being Rebecca Marino. The veteran scored two wins for Canada a year ago, but El Tabakh thinks Marino will be even stronger this year.
“Last year was her first time at home, I know she was dealing with a little bit of nerves. It will be a bit different this year, she’s ‘been-there, done-that,’ and these girls have a lot of experience and they’ve been able to adapt to pressure very well. I think she’s going to gain a lot of energy from the crowd.”
There is no question that the Canadian captain is happy with her team.
“I think it’s great that they’re healthy and always willing to represent their country with pride. It really is an incredible week for everyone because I feel like it’s very rare that you come together as a team and have the same goal versus the rest of the season when you just play individually. I feel like they feel they gain more confidence with each tie.
“It’s going to be a tough tie. But we’re up for it.”