Photo : Srdjan Stevanovic
Canada is through to the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers!
With Team Canada leading 2-0 after a strong opening day in Kraljevo, it was up to 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez to seal victory over Serbia, and despite a few twists, turns and technical malfunctions (keep reading…), the tenacious lefty from Montreal scored a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 comeback win over Serbian No. 1 Nina Stojanovic.
The pressure of a tie-clinching win was resting on Fernandez shoulders, and indeed she started off the match tight. Though she would be able to hold on to her first two service games, the Canadian No. 1 wasn’t able to make inroads the serve of Stojanovic, who after dropping her opening singles rubber to Rebecca Marino yesterday was playing without fear early.
Crunching backhands crosscourt to take time away from Fernandez, the Serbian No. 1, who has had a career-best start to 2021 and has been in trending form coming into this weekends tie, broke serve in the fifth game of the first set. Remaining untouchable on serve, the 24 year old from Belgrade had little troubles closing out the set as Fernandez was broken for a second time to make it 6-3 Serbia.
Early on second set threatened to follow a similar script to the first.
Although the 18-year-old Fernandez got an early look at the Stojanovic serve for the first time in the match in the opening game, it was quickly snuffed out by steely play by the Serbian. Things were looking dire for Canada’s top player in Kraljevo this week, as Stojanovic quickly consolidated her momentum by breaking for 3-1 in the second set, threatening to send the critical Play-off tie to a fourth rubber.
From there, however, Fernandez caught fire. Stepping into the baseline and changing direction on her shots with a high-risk, high-reward mentality, the Montreal native not only broke back immediately, but held and broke again to earn herself a pivotal lead. After a tug-of-war ninth game, which saw multiple set points come and go, Fernandez ultimately broke once more to win the second set and send the match into a decider.
A couple loose finishing shots to well-constructed points saw the Canadian go down an early break to kick off the third set, but she was able to wrestle control back after six break points in a marathon game at 3-6, 6-3, 0-1.
The final set continued to be played on a razor’s edge, with Fernandez dictating play but Stojanovic coming up with clutch, line-clipping shots when it mattered most. At 4-3, resilient play from the World No. 72 secured the break of serve she’d need to close out the match, only to be broken back in the very next game on the back of a couple of untimely double faults.
In the following game, Fernandez would see four tie-clinching match point comes and go, all saved with moments of lights-out brilliance from Serbia’s No. 1 player, including a clutch ace out wide on the fourth. But as Fernandez stepped up to the baseline to return serve on her fifth match point, the lights actually went out as an an untimely power surge blew out a third of the overhead bulbs in Kraljevo’s Sport Hall Ibar, suspending play for 10 minutes before the players were allowed to resume.
Upon resumption, Stojanovic came up with a clutch second serve down the tee followed by a gritty baseline rally to keep the match alive, much to the delight of Team Serbia. But with the same resilience that saw her win a marathon opening rubber on Friday against Olga Danilovic, Fernandez would claw her way to a sixth match point – and this time, she wouldn’t miss.
On a Stojanovic forehand into the net, Fernandez sunk to the ground and the Canadian bench erupted. The tie was theirs: a clean 3-0 sweep of a challenging Serbian squad – and, with it, a place in the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers in 2022.