Marina Stakusic pumps her fist

Photo : Martin Sidorjak

In the opening match of Team Canada presented by Sobeys’ Billie Jean King Cup group stage tie with Spain, one player was a 24-year-old with over 300 matches professional matches under her belt and was playing her fifth tie at the Billie Jean King Cup. The other was an 18-year-old making her debut at the event and playing just her third match overall on the WTA Tour or equivalent.

Watching the match, based purely on the product on court, viewers probably had a difficult time guessing which player was which.

It was hard to believe that Marina Stakusic was the biggest match of her career on Wednesday at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals as she dominated Rebeka Masarova from start to finish for what was easily the most significant win of her young career.

“It’s my best victory, for sure,” said Stakusic after the victory. “I feel amazing, I’m super happy with my performance. I just tried to have great energy from beginning and show that I belong here. I’m very happy with my performance.”

“I’m super happy for Marina,” expressed teammate Leylah Annie Fernandez. “She’s definitely doing some great things on the ITF Tour and she played an amazing match today. It’s a great start for her and I’m hoping we can keep going this week.”

Coming into the Billie Jean King Cup Finals, Stakusic had appeared in just one WTA Tour main draw, reaching the second round of the 250 event in Granby in August 2022. In 2023, the teen appeared in just one qualifying match at a WTA event, also on home soil in Montreal.

When asked if she expected to be in this position, Stakusic said, “Definitely not. This year, I actually started off with an injury so I didn’t play from January until July. I didn’t play a tournament, so I did not think I’d be here at all. But I think that injury motivated me to come back stronger than when I left.”

And come back stronger she most certainly did. The youngster has been a force to be reckoned on the ITF circuit with since the National Bank Open, going 19-2 and winning three titles, the first of her career.

That hot run earned her the spot on the team and eventually a date with Spain.

“I was at an ITF tournament in Berkeley, it was right after I’d won that tournament,” explained Stakusic. “Heidi called me and she told me ‘we really want you only the team, you’ve earned your spot.’ I was just so happy. That’s something that’s always been a goal of mine so I was really, really excited.”

Stakusic is the youngest member of a highly-experienced Canadian team. The newcomer credited her teammates with helping get her ready for the biggest match of her career.

“Before this match, Leylah came up to me and told me some stuff from her first experience playing here,” recounted the teen. “She told me to just enjoy the moment, play your game and just have fun and I used that. I took that in with me to this match”

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After clinching the tie for Canada, Fernandez gave credit to Stakusic and the role she played in the victory, saying, “She helped Team Canada get on the board. She’s doing her part, I’m doing my part, we’re all doing our part and that’s when you see the teamwork and the chemistry we have between the girls.”

No matter what happens the rest of the week, Stakusic has made a statement. And it is likely that this was just the beginning for the young gun.

“It gives me so much confidence now going forward with the way that I played, this win, all of it.”