Photo : Martin Sidorjak/Tennis Canada
She does it every time.
For years, No.353 Françoise Abanda was the underdog at the international team tennis competition formerly known as Fed Cup. And the same was true at Billie Jean King Cup.
The result? Also the same!
Her win in the 2021 Finals in Prague was much like the others she’s locked in over the past six years: a huge upset that helped Canada substantiate the cliché Sylvain Bruneau and other captains from around the world rely on time and time again: in team competitions, anything’s possible.
Fiona Ferro, who happens to be the same age as Abanda (24 years old), is currently ranked No.105. Only 15 months ago, she won the second title of her career in Palermo, where she defeated Anett Kontaveit of Estonia (keep reading for more on her).
French captain Julien Benneteau may have taken quite a few people by surprise when he chose Ferro for the opening match instead of the very experienced French no.2 Caroline Garcia, who actually took down Françoise Abanda in two sets in the qualies of the National Bank Open in Montréal last summer. Did Benneteau underestimate the Canadian?
Regardless, the balance of power still tilted in favour of France. In 2021, Ferro competed in 41 matches (20–21) compared to 12 (5–7) for the Abanda. After playing four matches at the start of the year, Abanda contracted COVID-19 and only returned to the courts in Montréal in early August.
Her 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Ferro is therefore the latest exploit in a long list of fantastic surprises orchestrated by Françoise for Team Canada since 2015.
* 2019 —World Group II quarterfinal
Abanda, then No. 223, defeats No.129 Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands.
* 2017 — World Group II play-off
Abanda, then No.186, posts two-set wins over No.51 Yaroslava Shvedova and No.31 Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.
* 2016 — World Group II quarterfinal
Abanda, then No.343, ousts No.74 Olga Govortsova of Belarus.
* 2016 — World Group II play-off
Abanda, then No.260, gets the better of No.124 Jana Cepelova of Slovakia.
* 2015 — World Group play-off
Abanda, then No.260, sends No.33 Irina Camelia-Begu back to Romania empty-handed.
The Montrealer isn’t invincible, but it’s pretty clear she plays her absolute best tennis in team competitions. Those who thought she could only be great with a home court advantage were proven wrong.
Though the deadline for this blog is just a few minutes away, I couldn’t let Françoise Abanda’s performance go unnoticed. By the time you read these lines, you’ll already know if Canada found its way to the semis or not.
For Françoise, it’s another great win that will perhaps help her get her career back on track.
Can’t stop, won’t stop
This summer, Anett Kontaveit went through a bit of a dry spell. Between the final in Eastbourne on June 27 and the first round in Mason, Ohio on August 23, she wasn’t able to clinch a single victory.
0 in 5.
But she’s turned things around, to say the least. In the past ten weeks, her record is an astounding 26–3!
Yep, you read that correctly: 26–3.
She’s won four of the seven tournaments she competed in, including her two most recent forays in Moscow, Russia and Cluj-Napoca, Romania, and rose from No.28 to No.8. She also happened to punch her ticket for the WTA Finals that get underway on November 10 in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“I’m still unsure of what’s going on!” an excited Kontaveit said in a press conference after her win over Simona Halep. “Of course, I’m incredibly happy I managed to play really well today and win the final. (…) I believe in myself a little bit more than I did a couple years ago, and I was trying to be aggressive but also stay consistent, and not go for too much.”
Kontaveit is the first Estonian to qualify for the WTA’s year-end event.
Unexpected ends to the races
After a strange fall last year, we were all expecting 2021 to wrap up in a more habitual way. Though things seemed to be back on track this season, the year-end tournaments will be looking a bit different.
This November, the Nitto ATP Finals at Pala Alpitour in Turin will have to make do without usual suspects Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
As far as the Akron WTA Finals in Guadalajara coming up later this month, top seed and World No.1 Ashleigh Barty has withdrawn and won’t be defending her title.
“I wanted to let everyone know that I won’t be competing in any further tournaments in 2021, including the WTA Finals in Mexico,” she said in a statement. “It was a difficult decision, but I need to prioritise my body and my recovery from our 2021 season and focus on having the strongest preseason for the summer.”
She doesn’t seem to be injured, just fed up.
Of all the athletes who decided to call it quits and take time to heal from (real or just a bit aggravating) injuries, there’s no doubt that the highest ranked players—and therefore the highest paid ones—had the easiest time making the decision. Prestige, prizemoney and passion for tennis take a back seat to a peaceful pause.
A lot of us have a hard time understanding how players could complain about travelling around the world, staying in five-star hotels, eating in the world’s best restaurants, getting the VIP treatment and playing the sport they love—most of the time with their significant other in tow.
But it’s too easy to forget that tennis stars sometimes dream of getting off the ride and spending time at home with their friends and family. They’re only human after all.
That’s something Ashleigh Barty made clear.
Like a lot of her colleagues in the WTA and ATP, she’s worn out by all things COVID-19. She has the points, trophies, status and money and just prefers to hang out in Australia rather than spend a week in Europe or Mexico before the holidays.
How many will follow her lead over the next few weeks?
The Transylvania Open had a ton of last-minute drop outs. Muguruza, Badosa and Alexandrova changed their minds right before the draw on October 23. Mertens, Golubic, Kudermetova and a few others also declined.
A lot of players are taking it easy, and I can’t blame them.
Others will see the absences as an opportunity to get ahead.
And rightly so.
The king returns to France
It’s a new era for the Fédération Française de Tennis (FFT).
At least that’s what one would assume if the FFT’s new recruit can work the same magic he did in Canada.
After 15 years of loyal (and spectacular) services at Tennis Canada, Louis Borfiga returned to his native France a few months ago.
We already knew he would serve as an advisor to the FFT, which he left in 2005 to come to Canada. After a few months preparing the transition here, he is now embarking on a brand new chapter.
The FFT is certainly hoping Luigi, as Borfiga is affectionately known, will still have that magic touch and influence France’s top tennis coaches and executives to restore the nation’s former glory.
Gaël Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gilles Simon all emerged from the FFT program Borfiga oversaw.
French journalist Carole Bouchard at Tennis Majors recently sat down with Louis Borfiga to find out more.
A little something extra
This blog could have a monthly segment (a weekly segment?!) on Gaël Monfils.
The dazzling Frenchman produces something phenomenal at every event.
In the round of 16 in Vienna, he didn’t disappoint, despite losing in three (7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-2) to Diego Schwartzman, who definitely gets a very honourable mention on this particular sequence.
Monfils is among the athletes who just can’t help adding a little something extra to wow the crowds, who LOVE to watch tennis players display their talents, improvise and subtly remind us all that is just a game.
Say what you will about them, but the likes of Kyrgios, Paire, Bublik, Monfils and Tiafoe tend to see the fun in tennis more than most.
Even though clowning around can cost points, games and matches.
Also in Vienna, Francis Tiafoe showed his skills and high-fived a few lucky ticket holders in his three-set win over Jannik Sinner (3-6, 7-5, 6-2) in the semis.
I couldn’t wrap up this little interlude without paying homage to Nick Kyrgios, who lives for those moments. Let’s rewind to Washington 2019, when he defeated a tough opponent to raise the sixth winner’s trophy of his career.
Extra, for sure.
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