Photo: Martin Sidorjak
Despite being just 24 years old, you wouldn’t be amiss in calling Francoise Abanda a Billie Jean King Cup veteran. The Quebecer is gearing up for her seventh appearance in the competition as the Canadian team presented by Sobeys prepares to compete in the year-end Finals in Prague, Czech Republic.
Six years have come and gone since her debut in 2015 when she and her teammates faced a difficult tie against – coincidentally – the Czechs in the World Group quarter-final. Much has changed about the competition since then – not least the rebrand from its previous guise, Fed Cup, to honor its ambassador and one of the true trailblazers of women’s tennis, Billie Jean King.
But, what’s changed about Abanda in that time?
“I’m more mature and experienced,” she said in an interview with the official Tennis Canada website. “It’s funny because a lot of people tell me that it’s been many years and I’ve been in the team so many times. I personally don’t count how many times but when I was younger it was a new experience. I obviously wanted to do so great, and I had that adrenaline. So, I hope I can find this again here, play with the same hunger I’ve always had in the past.”
It isn’t just the identity of the tournament that has been updated, though. The Finals now pits the 12 best teams in the world against one another in a year-end showdown. The 2021 edition will be the first time the new format has been implemented, and it’s proving popular among the players.
“I like the formula,” Abanda said. “I’m not going to lie, it can be a little bit confusing but it’s new, it’s different. We didn’t have much time to get familiar with it but I think it’s pretty cool to have a lot of countries here, all competing and you see different players. For me, it’s my first time playing in the finals so it’s great for me to experience this.”
But back to Abanda. The Canadian has produced some of the most promising tennis of her career on the Billie Jean King Cup courts. Fans will recall impressive triumphs over the likes of Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands in Canada’s 4-0 victory in 2019 and her straight sets win over current World No. 44 Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan in 2017.
“I’ve always had my best victories in Billie Jean King Cup,” Abanda commented. “All the matches I’ve played have been a great experience, win or lose. Like I said, I got the biggest wins of my career here so for me to come back here it’s so positive and for some reason I always have some good matches. So, I really hope I can find this rhythm and groove that I’m usually in at Billie Jean King Cup.”
With round-robin ties against France and the Russian Tennis Federation first up on Monday and Tuesday respectively, preparations are well underway at the O2 Arena. Both opponents represent a tough test, but the Canadian team has all the confidence it needs to advance.
“I’m going in to win and to get the victory for Canada,” Abanda said. “That’s why we’re all here, we’re all working super hard and I think to would be great to have the victory. No matter what happens I think we will stay proud as a nation.”