Photo : ITF
Twelve months ago, Canada was just another country in team competitions looking for a breakthrough.
Now, they are on the precipice of true greatness. What a difference a year makes.
Team Canada presented by Sobeys are one tie/two matches/four sets away from claiming their first Billie Jean King Cup title after upsetting Czechia with a comeback victory in the semifinals on Saturday.
The victory over the Czech’s in many ways was classic Team Canada and a story seen often in these team competitions, with lower-ranked players rising to the occasion when their nation calls.
Leylah Annie Fernandez played the hero on Saturday, scoring upsets in both her singles win over world No. 7 and Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova and in the doubles with Gabriela Dabrowski against seven-time major champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova.
“I’m extremely proud of our team spirit, our team effort,” said Fernandez. “I think today, it was one of our toughest ties because we are playing against one of the best players in the world individually and the best team in the world. They won [the Billie Jean King Cup] a couple of times. We definitely had a tough test for us, but we were just super excited, motivated, and we wanted to put on the show.”
And put on a show, they did. Saturday really summed up Fernandez in the Billie Jean King Cup this year, where she is a perfect 7-0, finding ways to win against the odds, whether it is a comeback or knocking off a higher-ranked player.
“Today was an incredible day. Leylah is just incredible,” said Captain Heidi El Tabakh after the victory. “I’m so proud of my girls, but we’re not done. We’ve got to come out here tomorrow and do it all over again. But I am so proud of them.”
History on the Line
Obviously, winning the World Cup of women’s tennis is a big deal. For a country that has never come particularly close to this level of success, it would be extra special.
Here are just a few things Canada would acccomplish with a victory on Sunday.
Canada is looking to become the 13th different country to lift the trophy. They would be the second first-time winner in a row after Switzerland claimed their first title a year ago.
With a win, Canada would also become the 11th country to have won both the Davis Cup and Billie Jean King Cup. Canada would be the first country to win their first titles in each competition in consecutive years since West Germany won their first Billie Jean King Cup in 1987 and first Davis Cup in 1988.
For at least two weeks, Canada would be the title holder in both major team competitions. They would be third country since 2010 to simultaneously hold both titles.
Read also: Canada Completes Sweep of Spain
“It’s an amazing thing for Canadian tennis. I think for us as a country, we’ve always been put aside as a hockey nation, which is true. But we are also a tennis nation,” said Fernandez. “There are a lot of girls and boys that are picking up a racket and they are competing. I know that they have big dreams like all of us. I think for us to be doing this and to be able to showcase that Canada is also amongst the best countries in the world is an honor, it’s a privilege, and hopefully young girls, boys from Canada can continue in their dream.”
Bring On Italy
Their finals foes, Italy, are quite familiar to Canada. The two nations met in the Group Stage of the 2022 Finals and the Canadians will be hoping for a repeat of that clash, which Canada won 3-0, all three matches in straight sets.
Fernandez was particularly dialed in during that tie, double-bagelling Martina Trevisan and ultimately losing just two games in four sets including doubles.
The match-up will look a bit different this year though.
If both teams were to roll out the same lineups as they did in the semis, Fernandez would face off with Jasmine Paolini instead of Trevisan, who will likely be the Italian No. 2. The Canadian likely will have no objection to that, as she has won both previous meetings with Paolini, including earlier this year in Doha, in straight sets.
Instead, Marina Stakusic will likely be dealing with Trevisan. Like Fernandez, the Canadian teen has taken her tennis to another level this week in Seville, scoring the two biggest wins of her career in the Group Stage.
“Tomorrow is just going to be an exciting match-up for us against Italy,” explained Fernandez. “Tough players. They bring a lot of heart, a lot of grit on the court. I just know that it’s going to be a tough time for us and it’s a final. We’re going to leave it all out there and hopefully with fingers crossed and the stars aligned, maybe we can lift the trophy up.”
For Gabriela Dabrowski, the veteran of Team Canada, it would be the culmination of a long journey with Team Canada, like it was for Vasek Pospisil in 2022. The Ottawan has played more ties than anyone on the team and has barely missed a chance to play for her country since first suiting up in 2013.
It would also be the perfect end to the year for Dabrowski, who reached new heights on tour by winning her first major women’s doubles title at the US Open.
Overall, Canada leads the head-to-head 3-1 with Italy, although prior to their group stage meeting in 2022, they had not played since 1995.