Cold – the high temperature on Friday was -14 – and snowy Quebec City is one of the picture postcard places in North America, its quaint, old city bordered inside centuries-old walls with the ice-covered St. Lawrence River flowing past.

This weekend, Quebec City plays host to the Fed Cup World Group first-round tie between Canada and the defending champion Czech Republic.

Most notable, sadly, about the match-up is the absence of both countries’ best players – world No. 4 Petra Kvitova and No. 15 Lucie Safarova for the Czechs and No. 7 Genie Bouchard for the Canadians.


When the draw was done Friday up on the Hilton Hotel’s 23rd floor, there was another surprise – the woman who was supposed to be playing as Canada’s No. 1 in Bouchard’s place, No. 134-ranked Sharon Fichman, was not fit enough, suffering with a left upper-leg issue that bothered her in the Australian Open qualifying three weeks ago and is related to her knee surgery late last year.

As a result, No. 185 Gabriela Dabrowski became Canada’s No. 1 singles player and Francoise Abanda, No. 230, is No. 2. Both are making their Fed Cup debuts in singles.

The Czechs, even without Kvitova and Safarova, have an impressive eight players in the Top 100 – the others being Karolina Pliskova, No. 22, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, No. 23, Klara Koukalova (formerly Zakopolova) No. 43, Petra Cetkovska, No. 61, Tereza Smitkova, No. 62 and Denisa Allertova, No. 91.

On top of that, Lucie Hradecka, No. 122, is with the team. She upset No. 5 Ana Ivanovic at the Australian Open with a fine display of her two-handed (on both sides) power. In Quebec, she is slated to play doubles with Allertova.

In singles, as a result of Friday’s draw, starting at 1 p.m. EDT on Saturday, it will be Pliskova vs. Abanda followed by Smitkova vs. Dabrowski.

The Czechs go in as considerable favourites. “It’s always like that, either someone is the favourite and someone the underdog, or occasionally the teams are pretty closely ranked (the Czechs are No. 1 and Canada No. 8 in current Fed Cup rankings),” said Canadian captain Sylvain Bruneau. “Our opponents are higher ranked than us but I think in Fed Cup you shouldn’t get too caught up in that. You just have to go out there and forget about rankings – play with your heart and give everything. It’s an advantage to play at home with the crowd. Surprises are possible. You see them often in the tennis world.”

“We are the favourites,” conceded Czech captain Petr Pala, “but we’ve been like that many times. What I saw during the week, the way our girls practiced, I’m quite confident for the tie. But the Canadian team has lots of talent so we have to be ready for a very tough tie.”


At the beginning of the media access to the Canadian team on Friday, all the French questions were for Abanda, who turned 18 on Thursday.

In the second half of 2014, she played Dominka Cibulkova at Rogers Cup in Montreal, Sabine Lisicki at the US Open and Venus Williams at the Challenge Banque Nationale in Quebec City. While she lost all three matches, they were competitive and valuable experience for her. “They’re matches that taught me a lot, so I hope I can use them and compete well,” she said.

She and Pliskova have met before, but Pliskova was a bit hazy about it. “I don’t know much,” she said about Abanda, “I practiced with her once but I don’t really remember the practice and I didn’t see her play at all here. So I’ll wait and see tomorrow.”

Pliskova has had a good start to 2015, upsetting Victoria Azarenka (saving two match points) in Brisbane and then reaching the final in Sydney where she lost to compatriot Kvitova 7-6(5), 7-6(6).

Andy Murray was impressed with what he saw of her in Sydney, and said about the 6-foot-1 right-hander, “she has a big serve. And then when the ball was in the middle of the court, she was really taking the ball on. From just watching a little bit, you could see that she is obviously a very dangerous player for any of the women to play against.”


Like Pliskova, Dabrowski makes her singles debut for Canada. “I’m really excited to play tomorrow, the first time ever playing singles in Fed Cup – and probably since I was 15 playing world juniors for Canada,” she said. “It’s an honour to be in this position.

“I think that every match is an opportunity to learn, and this one means much more because it’s Fed Cup and you’re playing for your country. It hits you more in the heart than a normal tennis match would.

“I expect a battle, as I always do – I’m going to give it my all. And if I’m lucky and playing well, hopefully follow in the footsteps of Genie and Aleks Wozniak (recovering from shoulder surgery) who have done so well before.”

Dabrowski and Smitkova have played twice in the past – both on European clay. Dabrowski won 6-3, 6-0 in Trnava, Slovakia, in 2013 while Smitkova came out ahead 6-2, 6-0 in Bad Gastein, Austria, last year.

“The whole team is more like a power team, they all have big first serves and they love to hit the ball,” Dabrowski said about the Czechs. “It should be pretty interesting since I don’t usually play that way all the time.”

It would appear that the match-ups on Friday are the best Canada could have hoped for. Abanda is a very promising talent who might be capable of raising her game and causing a surprise, while Dabrowski is familiar with Smitkova, who won a round at the Australian Open (Mirjana Lucic) and two rounds before that at the WTA event in Shenzhen, China, losing to Kvitova 7-5, 6-4.

The doubles line-ups were entered as follows, Dabrowski and Fichman vs. Hradecka and Allertova. Hradecka, 29, has won two Grand Slam doubles titles – Roland Garros in 2011 and the US Open in 2013, both with compatriot Andrea Hlavackova.

The tie will be played at the 3,004-seat PEPS arena on the campus of Laval University. “PEPS” stands for Pavillon Education Physique et les Sports.

Bouchard’s new coach


It was a surprise to learn Thursday that Genie Bouchard’s new coach is Sam Sumyk, who spent the past five years with former world No. 1 – and two-time Australian Open champion – Victoria Azarenka.

Just two weeks ago at Melbourne Park, he was still in the Belarusian’s corner.

What to make of it? It seems like a decent fit. Bouchard can be demanding and temperamental – as some TSN footage before last year’s French Open semifinal vs. Maria Sharapova showed. And so could Azarenka. So, he has experience dealing with tough taskmasters. Before that Sumyk was with former No. 2-ranked Vera Zvonareva, sometimes referred to as “the crying game” because of her emotional behavior.


Sumyk (above at Roland Garros in 2012 beside guess who?) is French and Bouchard had some of her most significant improvements working with former French player Nathalie Tauziat.

As well, Bouchard has made it plain she isn’t keen on too many friends on tour, and Azarenka was like that – though maybe less so today.

Sumyk’s wife is former American player Meilin Tu, so he has a connection to the women’s game through her.

It remains disappointing that Bouchard is not in Quebec City for Fed Cup, especially because she was mainly responsible for getting Canada its first participation in the elite eight World Group – the only countries that actually compete for the cup in this calendar year.

It was also hard to see Bouchard making an appearance for one of her sponsors, Coke, at a Montreal Canadiens game on Tuesday night in Montreal while her Fed Cup teammates were in Quebec City training to represent their country.

Finally, there’s an irony in that the Czech’s top player, No. 22-ranked Karolina Pliskova is playing in Quebec City this weekend and then going to play the Diamond Games WTA event in Antwerp, Belgium, next week. Bouchard was scheduled to leave Friday night from Montreal for Antwerp, where she will bethe top seed.

Twin talk with Karolina


In the history of tennis, there have been a few twin combinations in doubles, and usually one player is right-handed and the other is left-handed

Here are four:

Mike (right) and Bob (left) Bryan – USA

Karolina (right) and Kristyna (left) Pliskova – Czech

Daniela (right) and Sandra (left) Klemenschits – Austrian

Tim (right) and Tom (left) Gullikson – USA

The one exception to that rule is the 33-year-old Ratiwatana twins from Thailand – currently ranked No. 109 Sanchi, and No. 116 Sonchat. Both are right-handed.

With Karolina Pliskova playing Fed Cup in Quebec City, and being a twin, there was an obvious question for her. She and Kristyna, ranked No. 142 in singles, have won three WTA titles together – Bad Gastein (Austria) and Hong Kong in 2014 and Linz (Austria) in 2013.

Asked about the apparent coincidence of one twin being right-handed and the other being left-handed, Pliskova replied, “I heard that if it’s identical twins, there’s a big chance for it to be one on the right and one on the left.”

Les girls Americaines


This is how the U.S. women looked for the Fed Cup dinner in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Thursdaynight. That’s Taylor Townsend on the left, Serena and Venus in the middle and Coco Vandeweghe on the right. Captain Mary Joe Fernandez is at back.

For those who notice these things, all the women are wearing the same dress – but different colours.