Dabrowski Marino doubles win 2021 Billie Jean King Cup Finals celebrate

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

It’s a dream start for the Canadian team presented by Sobeys at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals after they produced a huge upset to beat the No. 1-ranked and defending champions France in their opening Group A tie. Victories for Francoise Abanda in singles as well as Gaby Dabrowski and Rebecca Marino in doubles sealed the 2-1 triumph.

Team Canada will now face the Russian Tennis Federation (RTF) tomorrow, knowing a win will confirm their place in the semi-finals.

Abanda gets Canada off to the ideal start

In what was their first-career meeting, Abanda and Fiona Ferro took to the O2 Arena courts in Prague, Czech Republic to kick off their respective teams’ Finals campaigns. Ranked 248 places behind her opponent, Abanda – No. 353 – was the underdog heading into this rubber against the No. 105-ranked Ferro.

The first set saw the Canadian come out firing as she hit a cross-court backhand winner to claim an early break. Ferro, though, battled back and immediately levelled proceedings before crafting a decisive break with the set finely poised to claim it 6-4.

Onto the second set, where Abanda seemed to find her rhythm. Despite going 2-0 down early, she battled back with two consecutive breaks before consolidating on her own serve to take a 4-2 lead. Serving for the set at *5-4, the Canadian showed no nerves and saw out the game confidently.

That confidence continued to grow in the third set as Abanda forced an early break, with her opponent hitting long at 30:40. The occasion seemed to be getting to Ferro, who was making a number of unforced errors. The Canadian, on the other hand, was cool, calm and collected as she methodically held the rest of her service games – not without some pressure from Ferro – to clinch the opening rubber for Canada.

Marino falls to Cornet

Up next was Marino’s match against Alize Cornet, who she had never previously faced in her career. The top-ranked player on the French team, Cornet posed a difficult test for the Canadian, who herself was having a stellar year on the WTA Tour.

Marino showed the sort of damage she can cause straight away, holding her serve under pressure before breaking Cornet at the first time of asking. Her lead didn’t last too long, however, as her opponent won the next four games to turn proceedings on their head. And Cornet didn’t relinquish her advantage as she played steady tennis to claim the opening set 6-4.

In the second, she wasted no time in getting herself on the board. On Marino’s serve, Cornet crafted a 0:40 lead and took her second break point opportunity as the Canadian hit a backhand into the net. Rather than let the match slip away, Marino stayed composed, saving another break point in her next service game before breaking back to even the score.

The intensity was high from both players and both sets of benches, but the match remained on serve with neither side prepared to blink. That was until the tiebreak where, despite battling to a 4-1 lead, Marino couldn’t prevent Cornet from making a comeback to claim the set 7-6(5).

Dabrowski and Marino clinch victory in doubles

In the decisive doubles rubber, World No. 5 Gabriela Dabrowski and Marino teamed up against France’s Cornet and Clara Burel. Heading into the match, Marino’s doubles ranking of No. 175 was higher than both Cornet’s (No. 281) and Burel’s (No. 268) meaning Canada could class themselves as favourites.

And they lived up to that tag in the first set as they leapt out to a 4-1 advantage, including a break of the serve in the fourth game. Dabrowski and Marino continued to show their quality and they never looked in danger of being exposed. They would go on to see out the set 6-3 having faced just a single break point opportunity.

The French pairing found their feet in the second set and dug deep to break the Canadians to make it 4-2, before they consolidated to 5-2. But Dabrowski and Marino were poised for a comeback, and they capitalized on a moment of vulnerability from Cornet and Burel to clinch the next three games in a row.

In what was a high-pressure situation, the Canadians forced a tiebreak, knowing a win would seal victory in the tie. The breaker was evenly matched with both teams making the odd error but quality shot making remained the order of the day. With match point up, the French team hit into the net at the decisive moment to hand Canada a well-deserved victory.