From left to right: Marina Stakusic, Eugenie Bouchard, Heidi El Tabakh, Leylah Fernandez, and Rebecca Marino stand together and smile at the camera.

Photo : Martin Sidorjak

When the Davis and Billie Jean King Cups changed format to the current “Finals” version, with one site hosting the remaining countries, it effectively took away home-court advantage for any nation except the host.

By default, that meant whatever country was facing off with the hosts not only had to deal with another team, but opposing fans too.

That is exactly the challenge facing Team Canada presented by Sobeys this week at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals as they will clash in the group stage with the hosts Spain in Seville.

But it is not a challenge that the Canadian team is afraid of. In fact, just the opposite.

“We’re up for the challenge. That’s why we compete,” said Rebecca Marino at the team’s pre-event press conference when asked about facing Spain at home. “We compete for moments like this. Excited for the fans and for that sort of thing. I think we are up for it and we are quite excited.”

“When I saw that we were put in the round robin with Spain, particularly because they are the host nation, I was very excited because you want to have a great competition and good camaraderie for your team.”

While they may not have the crowd at their back, at least not on Wednesday when they face Spain, the sheer inspiration of playing for their country is plenty of motivation for Team Canada.

Read also: Meet Team Canada Ahead of the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup Finals

“It’s always special playing for your country,” said Eugenie Bouchard, who is suiting up for the first time since 2018. “I’ve done it many times over my career. I always enjoy having the support of teammates, because normally we play an individual sport. I think it’s unique. I’m happy the tennis calendar has a week like this a year or a couple weeks a year.”

Leylah Annie Fernandez, who will play the role of Canadian No. 1 this week in Seville, expressed similar sentiments, saying “I’m always excited to be part of a team, especially from Canada. We have a great support staff, and the girls here are super amazing, super positive. They always bring out the best in me.”

For the Laval-native, representing her country carries a special meaning that goes back to her family roots. “Also is the pride of playing for my country. My dad, who’s a football player, always said the biggest pride of any athlete is to represent their country and to have the country’s name on their back. Every time I step on court, I always just want to fight, bring out the best, be the best possible version of myself and give Team Canada a chance to win the tie.”

Fernandez played the hero in order for Canada to get to Seville, winning all three points in Canada’s qualifying tie with Belgium back in April.

Read also: Pressure Not a Problem for Fernandez at Billie Jean King Cup

For one member of Team Canada, everything going on in Seville is new.

“It’s really exciting for me to be here, to play my first Billie Jean King Cup,” said Marina Stakusic, who was nominated to Team Canada for the first time in her young career. “It’s always been a goal of mine to play in this event. Just being on a team with all these girls who are all super nice and welcoming is really exciting for me. I’m looking forward to seeing how the week goes. I know it’s going to be a great experience for me.”

Playing the host nation is never easy, but the Canadians should like their odds in Group C as neither of their opponents, Spain and Poland, are playing at full strength. Spain’s biggest name, Paula Badosa, is coming off injury and has not played since Wimbledon, while Poland is without world No. 1 Iga Swiatek.

Still, Team Canada is not taking anything for granted.

“Anything can happen. It might come down to the decider doubles. If it does, then we’re ready,” explained team captain Heidi El Tabakh. “This is a pretty tough competition. It’s pretty even. I think all teams are going to go out there and play their best. We expect that, and we’ll be ready for it.”

Read also: Tennis Canada unveils holistic and innovative player development roadmap – The Whole Player Development Pathway

The Canadians will not be looking past the Group Stage, but just winning the group is not the ultimate goal, which is doing what their male counterparts did in 2022 and being crowned world champions.

“We are hoping to follow in Davis Cup footsteps. Big inspiration to us,” said El Tabakh. “I trust my players. I know they are going to give it 100 per cent on court. We are competing against the big nations of teams and players in the world, so it’s not going to be easy. But we have earned our spot and we believe that we can do it. It would mean a lot for us. It would mean a lot for tennis in Canada and mean a lot for Canada as well.”

Canada opens the Billie Jean King Cup Finals on Wednesday against Spain and then plays Poland on Thursday. The top team in the group will advance to Saturday’s semifinals.