Photo : Joe Ng
Day one of the Billie Jean King Cup playoff between Team Canada presented by Safeway and Latvia could not have gone much better for the home team as Leylah Annie Fernandez and Rebecca Marino both picked up singles victories to take a 2-0 lead.
Leylah Fernandez waited long enough for her first Billie Jean King Cup match at home, she had no intention of waiting any longer for her first win.
The Canadian No. 1 only needed 53 minutes to give Team Canada presented by Safeway a 1-0 lead in their playoff against Latvia, beating Darja Semenistaja 6-1, 6-2.
The winner of the best-of-five tie will earn a spot in the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in November.
Fernandez was dialed in on return, winning 67 percent of her opponent’s service points and won all seven of her opponent’s service games. The rallies also belonged to the Canadian, who struck 16 winners to 14 unforced errors, while the Latvian committed 21 unforced errors.
Bolstered by the home crowd, Fernandez came out firing on all cylinders, relentlessly attacking her opponent’s serve. In the 23-minute opening set, Semenistaja only won six total points on her own serve, while Fernandez won 13 and broke serve each time the Latvian stepped up to the line.
That trend continued in the second set, as Fernandez opened the second set with her fourth break of the match.
Like she did in the first set, Semenistaja managed to break right back the first time she was broken, but she still could not figure out how to hold. Fernandez was dictating with her forehand, which produced 12 of her winners, particularly down the line, and continued to break serve at will.
Semenistaja did not go away quietly, twice managing to break back. But each time she struggled consolidate. The closest she came was holding a game point for 4-3 in the second set, but Fernandez was able to win the next three points to break and closed out the match the following game with a hold to love.
Marino hangs tough
Marino had a tough act to follow when she came out for the second singles match. But after shaking off some early rust, the veteran was able to power past Daniela Vismane 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3 to give the Canadians a stranglehold on the tie.
Playing in front of her home crowd, Marino blasted 30 winners, 17 aces and won 80 percent of her first serve points. She also converted three of six break point chances while saving two of the three she faced.
Marino showed some early nerves in a shaky open game where she was broken, but that served as a wake-up call as the British Columbia-native quickly responded, immediately breaking right break. She would not be broken again in the match.
As the set went on, Marino began to assert herself more and more in the rallies and as the games wore on, more points started to go her way. She bullied Vismane into an error to break for a 5-3 lead, which was enough to take the opening set.
Break point chances were scarce in the second set, with Marino getting a pair of looks in the ninth and eleventh games but failed to convert.
Another missed opportunity came in the tiebreak when she took an early 3-0 lead, only to lose six straight points to go down triple set point. Marino then missed a routine forehand on the second to send the match to a deciding set.
Vismane failed to capitalize on her momentum early in the third as she could not close out a double break point opportunity in the third game. Marino quickly began applying pressure to the Latvian’s serve, finally ripping a backhand winner up the line to break for a 4-2 lead.
Once ahead, the Canadian was not about to let the lead slip away, only dropping two points on her serve the rest of the way and closing out the win with back-to-back aces.
Canada only needs one victory on Saturday to clinch their spot in November’s Finals. Fernandez will have the first chance to clinch the win against Vismane, while Marino will take on Semenistaja.
If necessary, the fifth rubber will be the doubles match between Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski and Carol Zhao and Latvia’s Liga Dekmeijere and Diana Marcinkevica.