Leylah Fernandez pumps her fist. She led Canada to victory over Chile at the United Cup on Sunday.

Photo : Martin Sidorjak

Leylah Annie Fernandez picked up where she left off for the national team after her stellar performance at the Billie Jean King Cup in November, leading Canada to victory over Chile in their first-ever tie at the United Cup.

The three-time Billie Jean King Cup Heart Award winner opened the tie with a routine victory over Daniela Seguel before sealing the victory for Canada in the mixed doubles alongside Steven Diez. Diez, filling in for Felix Auger-Aliassime, lost the men’s singles match to world No. 19 Nicolas Jarry in two tight sets.

Despite Seguel putting 84 per cent of her first serves in play, Fernandez feasted on return, winning 56 per cent of her opponent’s service points and breaking serve five times in the 6-2, 6-3 win.

Fernandez put pressure on her Chilean opponent right from the start, breaking the first two times Seguel stepped up to the line, although the Canadian did herself get broken once between those twos breaks. But she backed up the second with a hold to love and finished off the set with a third break.

Seguel flipped the script to start the second set, breaking in the opening game and taking a 2-0 before Fernandez reclaimed the initiative. The Canadian got back on serve by ripping a backhand winner to break for 2-2 as she won six of the last seven games to score the first point for Canada.

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The decisive moment came at 4-3 when on break point Fernandez ripped a backhand return crosscourt and followed it into the net, putting away a beautiful low volley winner to set herself up to serve out the match.

Diez Presses but Can’t Finish

Steven Diez faced a tall task in order to close out the tie for Canada as he took on a player ranked nearly 300 spots ahead of him in the form of Nicolas Jarry.

The Canadian performed admirably in place of Felix Auger-Aliassime, who was dealing with a knee injury, but cracked late in both sets to drop a 7-5, 6-4 decision.

Throughout both sets, Diez, who is familiar with success at these team competitions in Australia early in the season having been a member of Canada’s 2022 ATP Cup-winning squad, did an impressive job of hanging with Jarry. However, he failed to make any inroads on the Chilean’s serve, never holding a break point in the match.

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Despite going toe-to-toe with the world No. 19 for the better part of one hour, 52-minute affair, he was broken as he served to stay in the set at 5-6 in the first and then again trying to stay in the match at 4-5 in the second to send the tie to a decisive doubles match.

Done Deal in Doubles

Fernandez and Diez returned to the court for the mixed doubles, while Seguel teamed up with Tomas Barrios Vera. The decider was a nailbiter with both sets and the match tiebreak coming down to the wire, but the Canadians were able to finish the job to win the doubles 7-5, 4-6, [10-8] and take the tie 2-1.

It seemed as though the Canadian team were in store for an easy victory when they raced out to a double-break 4-0 lead, only for the Chilean’s to save four set points and claw back to level the first set at 5-5.

But serving at 5-6 as she faced set points, Seguel got a bit of déjà-vu when Fernandez used her strong return to steal the set, firing a backhand return winner down the line to seal it for Canada.

The Chileans hung on in a break-point-filled second set, breaking twice to force the match to a deciding super tiebreak. There the Canadians had to play catch up multiple times, first going down an early minibreak to trail 1-3 and then seemed on the brink of defeat at 6-8.

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However, the Canadian squad dug in and won the last four points in a row, capped off with another massive Fernandez forehand, to finish off the win.

With the win, Canada sits atop Group Sydney Group B. Their next tie will be on Jan. 3 against Greece. A victory would see Canada win the group and advance to the quarter-finals, although they could advance even with a loss as the best second-place team depending on how the tiebreakers land.