Aleksandra Wozniak leveled the Fed Cup Group II tie between Canada and Belarus with a dominating 6-2, 6-2 victory over Olga Govortsova in Quebec City on Saturday.

Following her teammate Francoise Abanda’s 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 loss to Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the opening singles at the PEPS Arena on the campus of Laval University, Wozniak took control early against the Belarusian No. 1.

Currently ranked a lowly No. 803 as a result of almost a year of rehabbing after shoulder surgery in October, 2014, Wozniak started strong, taking a 3-0 lead in the first set.

Playing sound tennis from the baseline, particularly with her money-in-the-bank two-handed backhand, Wozniak really only faced two crisis points. Serving up 3-2 in the first set, she double-faulted to give Govortsova a break back point for 3-all. But the world No. 74 misfired with a backhand and Wozniak soon had the set wrapped up in 35 minutes.

The second set was much like the first, with Wozniak grabbing a 4-0 lead only to see Govortsova rally and hold two break points behind 4-2 to get back on serve. It wound up being a game lasting 11 minutes. Once Wozniak survived, it was one-way traffic and she closed matters on her first match point by powdering a backhand service return so deep that Govortsova couldn’t handle it.

Photo: Arturo Velaquez/Tennis Canada
Photo: Arturo Velaquez/Tennis Canada

Wozniak has always had world class ground strokes that are struck with clean, flowing technique off both sides. Despite her current unflattering ranking, the essence of her tennis is still there and the erratic Govortsova was no match for her.

Considering she had only played 11 matches since her shoulder surgery 16 months ago, Wozniak said, “it’s satisfying to play a match like that against a top-100 player. And also there’s something about Fed Cup that helps me play better.”

It was extra-satisfying for Wozniak, who recorded her 40th Fed Cup singles win, in view of her long road back from the surgery. “It’s my best match since my comeback,” she said. “It was perfect – the precision of my shots, my returns, the variation in my shots. That’s what allowed me to be No. 21 in the world (2009). I felt today like it’s finally come back – especially since my operation and starting at zero.”

Govortsova, who has been struggling with a knee issue, said about Wozniak, “I think she played really well. It was a little bit tough for me because I’ve only had a few matches the last four months.”

Except for six double faults in the one hour and 19-minute contest, the numbers were good for the 28-year-old Wozniak. She had a winners to unforced errors ratio of 22/18 while Govortsova was more wayward, winding up 17/28.

In Sunday’s fourth match, Wozniak will face No. 2 Belarusian – and fellow ‘Alexandra’ – Aliaksandra Sasnovich. It will be the first meeting between the two.

Sasnovich, ranked No. 99, played even with Abanda to 4-all in the opening set on Saturday. That’s when she broke the Canadian (Fed Cup) No. 1. After overcoming a 15-40 deficit in the following game, the Belarusian No. 2 finished off the set as Abanda missed with a forehand and a backhand on the final two points.

Abanda, who won the only point with a victory over Irina-Camelia Begu in Canada’s 3-1 loss to Romania in the World Group Playoff in Montreal last April, took over in the second set. The world No. 343 quickly led 3-0 and wrapped up the set in just 33 minutes.

She was successfully attacking Sasnovich’s vulnerable second serve and generally taking charge of play. That pattern extended into the third set until she served at 2-all. She led 40-30 and then had an advantage but eventually gave Sasnovich a game point with a double fault and then lost it on a backhand into the net.

Both players looked a little shaky but getting the break got Sasnovich pumped up and she was able to run out the match, finishing with a backhand down-the-line winner.

“She served better in this match but I played better from the baseline,” Sasnovich summed up. She added about the third set, “I relaxed a little bit (saying) ‘okay, move on, forget about everything, just play tennis.’”

Photo: Arturo Velaquez/Tennis Canada
Photo: Arturo Velaquez/Tennis Canada

“I was trying to go for my shots,” Abanda said, “and play aggressive. So for me, I still see this as a positive match. There wasn’t a big difference between us.”

Abanda had 25 winners and 43 unforced errors while Sasnovich had 11 winners and 25 unforced errors.

Regarding the missing Victoria Azarenka, Sasnovich said, “without her we are still a team. For the moment we have a situation like that but I’m sure she will play again.”

The 21-year-old who lost 6-1, 6-2 to Maria Sharapova in the second round of the Australian Open last month, enjoys representing Belarus. “When you play for your country, it’s special and you want to win,” Sasnovich said. “My parents and everyone is watching me on TV in my country, supporting me from the (their) heart and sending me messages so I really wanted to win and I’m happy.”

Photo: Arturo Velaquez/Tennis Canada
Photo: Arturo Velaquez/Tennis Canada

So the opening day of the first ever meeting between Canada and Belarus winds up with a 1-1 score. Ironically, if the top Canadian, Genie Bouchard, and the top Belarusian, Victoria Azarenka, had played, that’s very likely what the result would have been after the first two matches.

Now instead of Bouchard – Azarenka in Sunday’s third match, it will be Abanda – Govortsova. That will be followed by Wozniak vs. Sasnovich in the fourth match.

Should the tie come down to the fifth and deciding doubles, the listed pairing for Canada would be rookie Carol Zhao and Gabriela Dabrowski against Govortsova and 17-year-old recent Australian Open junior champion Vera Lapko for the Belarusians.

While Zhao (179) and Dabrowski (49) have superior WTA individual doubles rankings compared to Govortsova (366) and Lapko (605) – a key factor might be that Govortsova has eight career WTA doubles titles but none in singles.

Dabrowski has won two WTA doubles titles.

“It’s just one match at a time,” Canadian captain Bruneau said cautiously about any possible changes in his doubles team. “Carol and Gabriela are the ones we prepared all week in doubles. But we’ll see, there are still two singles matches to play.”

At stake on Sunday will be a spot for the winner in the World Group Playoffs with a chance to be promoted to the elite eight nations for 2017 Fed Cup competition.

The loser will be consigned to a playoff with this weekend’s three other World Group II losers and four nations coming up from zonal competition. A loss there and that nation will drop two levels below the World Group into what might aptly be described as zonal obscurity.     

As his team heads into two and maybe three matches on Sunday, Bruneau said, “I’d say it’s still positive after the first day. There will be two good battles ahead and everything is possible.”

Quebec City post card


There’s a slight distortion of the English name but it’s not hard to figure out what this store in La Basse Ville (lower town) is peddling.