From left to right, Leylah Fernandez, Katherine Sebov, Rebecca Marino and Gabriela Dabrowski stand in front of the net on court.

Photo : Jordan Leigh

The road back to the UK and the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup Finals is now clear for Team Canada presented by Sobeys.

On Thursday in Vancouver, the draw for this weekend’s qualifying tie was announced at the Pacific Coliseum with both the Canadian and Belgian teams in attendance.

There were little surprises, as Team Canada captain Heidi El Tabakh selected the top two Canadians in the WTA singles rankings, Leylah Annie Fernandez and Rebecca Marino, for the singles matches. Fernandez will then join Gabriela Dabrowski for the doubles rubber should it be required.

Belgium went a little more off-script, nominating Yanina Wickmayer as their No. 2 singles player despite the veteran being the team’s third highest-ranked player in the singles rankings. Ysaline Bonaventure, the top-ranked Belgian player in attendance, assumes the role as her nation’s No. 1.

Doubles is a strength for the Belgian squad and they are going with Greet Minnen and Kirsten Flipkens for the potentially decisive match. Both women are ranked inside the Top 70 in doubles.

Read more about Team Belgium

Fernandez will kick off the tie against Wickmayer in the first match on Friday, followed by Marino against Bonaventure. The matchups will flip on Saturday, with Fernandez facing off with Bonaventure and Marino taking on Wickmayer, barring any lineup changes. The doubles will wrap up the tie on Saturday.

It will be a first meeting between Fernandez and Wickmayer, but the Canadian is familiar with her Saturday opponent. She and Bonaventure met earlier this year in the Auckland quarter-finals and even though it was a victory for the Belgian, Fernandez believes that the experience will help her in what will be a critical match.

“I learned a lot from that match,” said Fernandez. “Now I know her game, I know her patterns, it will be an exciting matchup this Saturday.”

Bonaventure remembers that week in Auckland a little more fondly, where she beat both Fernandez and Marino. She is hoping to replicate the feat of beating the two Canadians on consecutive days.

“These were two good matches. I had a good week in Auckland and I definitely have to take this confidence to the matches this weekend,” said Bonaventure reflecting on her wins over the Canadians three months ago. “They’re both great players, we’re going to have some tough matches so I’m just going to try to produce the same level that I had the last few months.”

Marino has met both of her potential opponents before. She played Wickmayer once way back in 2018, also in Vancouver, a straight-set win for the Canadian.

While Bonaventure got the win earlier this year in Auckland, Marino leads their head-to-head 2-1 and won their most recent meeting, getting revenge on the Belgian in qualifying at Abu Dhabi

“[Leylah and I] know what her game is like and we know what to expect,” said Marino of Bonaventure. “Particularly we were both in Auckland playing her on indoor hard which is very similar conditions to here. I feel like that’s really good preparation and motivation because we want revenge for that, 100%. I’m quite excited to get out against her on the court.”

Read also: Captain El Tabakh Confident in Team Canada

Should the tie come down to the decisive doubles match, the Belgians have a multitude of choices for their pair, as three of their four team members are Top 100 doubles players and play regularly together on the tour.

“I think we have a good team in terms of experience and we have good doubles team also with Yanina and Greet,” said Flipkens, who was nominated for the doubles rubber. “I think everyone can play alongside everyone and we will see if we come to the fifth rubber, who we’re going to put but I think we have a lot of options and we’re a strong team.”

Dabrowski acknowledged the strength of the Belgian doubles squad, saying “You could argue that their A-team is not even here right now and yet they still have an amazing calibre of players. I think if it does go into the decider doubles it will be very, very challenging no matter who is playing.”

Read also: Team Canada Inspires Young Athletes Ahead of Billie Jean King Cup

But the Canadian doubles star is not backing down should a potential decisive doubles match arise. “It will just be very tough but we will also do our homework, some doubles strategy I’m sure will come out of that and hopefully it goes in our favour.”

Home Court Advantage

This is the second year in a row that Canada is competing not just on home soil in Vancouver, but on the very same court at the Pacific Coliseum.

Captain Heidi El Tabakh believes “It’s a little bit of a nice advantage to be here again. We’ve played on the same court, we know how it feels. We’re going to be ready to go.”

For Rebecca Marino, it is a second straight year playing in front of her home crowd. However, this setting is a bit of a mixed blessing.

“Playing in Vancouver, my hometown, for the Canadians playing in our home country, there is a little added pressure to perform but I think we use it as motivation,” explained Marino. “Especially being in the same stadium as last year we know exactly what the feeling will be like going on court so I think it will be a positive factor towards us.”

As for Fernandez, who is still looking for consistency after a foot injury suffered last year at Roland-Garros, her feelings ahead of the tie are quite simple: “I’m just excited to be back here playing for Team Canada.”

The Canadian No. 1 will kick off play at 4 pm local time in Vancouver on Friday.