The Canadian Fed Cup team players had a fun time before Wednesday’s practice – tossing two balls around under the guidance of strength and fitness coach Clément Golliet.
Genie Bouchard, Leylah Annie Fernendez and Gabriela Dabrowski were out on the court at the Swiss Tennis Arena in Biel, but it was who wasn’t there that was the main story.
No. 1 Canadian Bianca Andreescu missed practice for the second day in a row – enjoying some tourist time in nearby Zurich – and it seems her availability still hangs in the balance ahead of the best-of-five match Fed Cup Qualifier beginning Friday with two singles matches starting at 2 p.m. (8 a.m. ET in Canada).
The left knee that she injured on October 30th during the WTA Finals in Shenzhen may still not be up to the rigours of competition. After her shoulder problem last spring, which may have been aggravated by a premature return, the team around her are being cautious with arguably the best young player in women’s tennis at the moment.
If she is unavailable, that means it will presumably be current No. 185-ranked Fernandez and No. 267 Bouchard respectively as Canada’s No. 1 and No. 2 singles players for singles against the Swiss.
Belinda Bencic, up to a career high No. 5, will probably be the Swiss No. 1 with speculation that the No. 2 will be No. 93 Viktorija Golubic, 27.
So Bencic would play Bouchard with a head-to-head lead of 2-0. But those two meetings were back in 2015 – at Rogers Cup in Toronto and on the grass at Eastbourne before Wimbledon. Bencic would be the favourite but the Canadian side will hope the 25-year-old Montrealer can summon the kind of form that allowed her to win her two singles in her last Fed Cup appearance – against Ukraine at Stade IGA at home in 2018.
Bencic – Bouchard (that’s Swiss team consultant Martina Hingis and her husband Harry Lehmann watching the Canadian on Wednesday) is an interesting match-up. The 22-year-old Swiss followed Bouchard as the Wimbledon junior girls champion – winning in 2013 the year after Bouchard took the title in 2012.
The other singles between the 17-year-old Fernandez and Golubic, 27, would be a first meeting. Fernandez is making her second live match appearance after going 0-1 in Prostejov, Czech Republic last April. As for Golubic, her singles record is 4-5 and she first played in 2014.
Nothing is etched in stone as far as who will play who. The final line-up will be determined at the official draw ceremony that will be done at noon on Thursday.
Bouchard and Dabrowski were together working on their doubles Wednesday in the eventuality that they are required to play a fifth and deciding match on Saturday.
The potential absence of Andreescu, who is 7-3 in Fed Cup singles, is a blow for the Canadian team in its bid to earn a spot at the Fed Cup Finals in Budapest from the 14th to the 19th of April. The Canadians will essentially count on Bouchard’s experience, 12-4 over her career in Fed Cup singles, and the enthusiasm and boundless energy of the youthful Fernandez, in a bid to upset the Swiss.
Ticket sales are modest for the tie – with 1,300 of 2600 seats taken for Friday’s opening singles, and that number being bumped up to 1,800 for Saturday.
BATTLE OF THE BLACK DRESSES
Both the Canadian and Swiss teams wore classic black dresses for the official dinner on Wednesday night at the Swiss National Training Centre. Team Canada wore Collection Iris Setlakwe dresses in particular.
Collection Iris Setlakwe was established in Montreal in 2001 and 90 per cent of her dresses are made in Montreal from fabrics imported from Europe. Her goal has been to simplify the wardrobes of business women and to create collections where items mixed and matched with each other. Collection Iris Setlakwe‘s unique pieces are designed and produced for each season.
High heels were the order of the day, with both groups teetering well above their normal heights.
It’s a matter of personal taste whether the Canadians and captain Heidi El Tabakh or the Swiss with captain Heinz Gunthardt won the fashion stakes.
The evening included speeches by Swiss Federation president René Stammbach and Tennis Canada Chair of the Board Jennifer Bishop.
Captains Gunthardt and El Tabakh also spoke and that was followed by the exchange of gifts. The Canadians received Swatch watches while the Swiss were given earrings created by a Montreal designer.
A CHAT WITH LEYLAH
TT: How did you get back from Australia?
LAF: We left Melbourne Thursday of the first week and we went straight to Miami. (Note: Fernandez resides most of the year in Boynton Beach, Florida with her younger sister and her parents.) It was a direct flight which was amazing. Then Friday was totally off – maybe a light run to just keep the body moving. Saturday it was back to training. I had a little bit of jetlag but I was fine by the second or third day. I was able to stay awake and get back to training seriously.
TT: What would you say is your favorite memory from this year in Australia?
LAF: My favourite memory is probably all the problems we had with the weather. That I was able to see the different kind of problems that the tournament directors have to go through, and also the players. I had to experience that so that was my favourite part. And also qualifying for the main draw which was great.
TT: Any regrets about the (main-draw, first-round) match with Lauren Davis?
LAF: No, no regrets – I didn’t play my best and I accepted it. When I was able to watch the match I was able to work through it with my coach and my dad who is also my coach in Florida.
TT: How much do you think it will help you that you played Fed Cup last year in the Czech Republic and are now playing for the second time here?
LAF: It helped me a lot, the Fed Cup in Prostejov. It was my first time, I was not experienced at all. The team helped me a little bit which I’m very grateful for. When I came here I knew what to expect, what’s going to happen and the routines. So I feel more comfortable.
TT: How do you find the court and the speed in comparison to Australia?
LAF: It’s a lot faster. The courts are softer too, which is great. I like it. I like it when the courts are fast.
TT: Did you bring any souvenirs back from Australia?
LAF: I only brought back the stuffed koala. It’s a nice stuffed animal for the family. It’s the players’ gift. There are different animals – koalas, crocodiles and there’s a kangaroo. I had to pick one.
GABRIELA TALKS DOUBLES
TT: In the women’s doubles at the Australian Open, it was a bit surprising that you and Jelena Ostapenko lost 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the quarter-finals to Barbora Krejcikova and Katarina Siniakova. Ostapenko wasn’t that good a volleyer and the two Czechs weren’t very good either. You were by far the best volleyer, and it seemed like you might control the match a bit more than you did.
GD: The thing is sometimes when you play with a singles player (Ostapenko was ranked No. 45 in singles and won the 2017 French Open), they can be set in their ways because they’re so good at what they do. Obviously she’s achieved great success with a certain gamestyle. So I actually learned a lot from that match and I realized that I need to play my role a little bit better – to take more leadership in strategy and tactics even if she feels a little uncomfortable. In terms of where I was positioned at the net, I was too far back. I couldn’t pick off the volley off her good return. Small things like that add up.
We didn’t put enough pressure on the opponents. They were panicking but we let them back in and then they gained confidence again to finish it off.
Even though that was an extremely tough loss for me, it was a very good learning experience and I hope that when we play again that can switch it up.
TT: Ostapenko is exceptional, her shots are so hard that her opponents almost fear for their lives while defending themselves.
GD: Exactly – which is why over the course of a match a good team that also plays singles will be able to get a good rhythm. That’s why it’s my job to make sure that they don’t get that rhythm. Even though Aljona (Ostapenko) can rally forever and beat our opponents with power, I can insert myself into the point. Then the other person has someone moving over there and then they have to think ‘am I going to hit down-the-line, do I have to lob, I don’t have time the ball’s coming so fast.’ If I just kind of let her bang-bang-bang then over the course of a match it’s not as effective. Maybe the first set will be great but the rest of the time somebody will start to get used to it.
TT: The doubles is last (in a best-of-five match format) in Fed Cup. If you followed the ATP Cup (best-of-three), the third match (doubles) was really important a lot of the time. It seems unfortunate that in Fed Cup often it doesn’t even come down to the doubles in a best-of-five.
GD: I’m always for a change toward where the doubles is a key point in winning a tie. So I liked how Davis Cup was with having the doubles in the middle. I always thought that was really cool. Fed Cup, we never really followed suit in that sense but I hope that going forward they’ll think about it. There might be some line-ups that will be interesting because doubles is such an important part like in the ATP Cup event. Our (Fed Cup Finals in Budapest in April) will also be two singles and one doubles.
TT: What are your double plans the rest of the year – are you going to play with Ostapenko?
GD: I’m going to play with Aljona most of the time. I’m playing Dubai with Zhang Shuai. Probably a few tournaments in between where I’ll partner with somebody else. It depends how the results go – if I have to add another tournament onto the schedule or if I can do a training block whatever. For now it’s with Aljona.
TT: The French Open is quite far away – would you have a commitment for mixed there or for the rest of the year? (Note: she played with Henri Kontinen of Finland in Australia – losing 3-6, 6-3, [10-5] to Krejcikova and Nikola Mektic of Croatia in the semi-finals.
GD: That’s too far (smiles). We don’t plan that far in advance for mixed.
SWISS POST CARD
Every year in mid-February in Solothurn near Biel there’s a winter carnival. The theme of this year’s event is ‘Heaven and Hell’ as can be seen in translation we’ve done for the picture here.