Photo: Martin Sidorjak

With Canada fielding its best-ever Billie Jean King Cup team for the 2022 Finals in Glasgow this week, it was no surprise that captain Sylvain Bruneau was non-committal about who his singles players will be for the opening tie against Italy on Thursday.

“We have a bunch of options and so far it’s only Monday,” he said coyly yesterday. “So we’re going to wait and see after a few more practices. I can’t answer you really.”

The options come down to deciding whom of No. 40-ranked Leylah Fernandez, No. 46 Bianca Andreescu and No. 64 Rebecca Marino will fill the two singles spots against Italy on Thursday and then Switzerland on Friday.

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

It’s the first time Canada has had a Grand Slam singles champion, 2019 US Open winner Andreescu, and a Grand Slam runner-up, Fernandez at the 2021 US Open, on the team together.

“Definitely long overdue,” Andreescu said about her return to BJK Cup action for the first time since 2019. “It brings out different emotions in you. I’m definitely very excited to be here again.”

Andreescu ranked as high as No. 4 in 2019, and Fernandez reached No. 13 in 2022, so both are aiming to return to that kind of form.

Photo: Martin Sirdorjak

The 20-year-old Fernandez had her 2022 season interrupted by a grade-three stress fracture in the top of her right foot in the quarter-finals of the French Open in May. She didn’t return until August at the National Bank Open presented by Rogers in Toronto. “I think it was a good season considering I couldn’t play the grass season,” she said. “I’m just happy that I’m back into shape, back healthy, and that I’m able to represent Canada here at the Billie Jean King Cup. That’s always been one of my dreams. My season could have been better, but at the same time, I’m happy about it. I’ve learned a lot about myself as a tennis player and as a person, and that’s all I can ask for.”

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

As for the 22-year-old Andreescu, her assessment of 2022 went as follows, “this has been very good in my eyes. I feel I could have done better in certain ways – but just the way I have an outlook on everything compared to last year. Last year I didn’t feel like myself basically and this year I kind of came back and I’m dealing with the losses better, even the wins. (Smiles) I definitely don’t like having the 46 beside my name – so I want to crack the Top 10 in the next six months.”

Dating back to the US Open, Fernandez has a match record of 3-4 while Andreescu is 5-3. The 31-year-old Marino, including qualifying, is 11-6 and her ranking has moved up from No. 106 to No. 64.

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

It will be intriguing to see who plays for Italy on Thursday, as well as on Wednesday against Switzerland led by No. 12 Belinda Bencic, No. 35 Jil Teichmann and No. 77 Victorija Golubic. The Italians’ most high-profile player, Camila Giorgi, the 2021 National Bank Open champion but now ranked No. 67, has withdrawn.

That leaves an eager group of young players behind top-ranked No. 28 Martina Trevisan, 29, and more of a clay-court player. They are No. 56 Lucia Bronzetti, 23, No. 59 Jasmine Paolini, 26, and No. 65 Elisabetta Cocciaretto, 21. Two of them won titles two weeks ago – Cocciaretto at the WTA 125 event in Tampico, Mexico, and Paolini, at an ITF $100,000 tournament in Spain. Both of those titles were won on hard courts.

Fernandez got some laughs at Monday’s team press conference when she said, “the Italians are very tough they’re fighters, especially when there’s a group of Italians. They’re never going to give up, they’re going to fight for everything. That tie will be a battle.”

About the conditions in the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, Fernandez said, “as Canadians, we love the indoor hard (courts). We’ve kind of all grown up on indoor hard courts so it’s going to be a good advantage for us.”

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

Because of the scheduling with the Italians and Switzerland leading off competition in the three-team Group A on Wednesday, if Italy upsets the higher-rated Swiss, Canada would face elimination against the Italians in its opener on Thursday. If the Swiss win, then Canada would hope to beat Italy on Thursday and then Switzerland on Friday to qualify for Saturday’s semi-finals.

The format has the No. 2 singles players facing off before the No. 1s play – and then a doubles which could decide the best-of-three match tie.

Currently No. 7 in the WTA rankings, Gabriela Dabrowski will anchor Canada’s doubles team. She has previously played three times in BJK Cup action with team member Carol Zhao and once each with Marino and Andreescu.

The favourites for this year’s finals are probably the Czechs, six-time champions, led by No. 21 Barbora Krejcikova (and No. 3 in doubles), No. 32 Karolina Pliskova and current WTA doubles No. 1 Katerina Siniakova. Canada could play the Czech Republic in the semi-finals.

There are some notable absentees among the top players at the BJK Cup Finals – particularly world No. 1 Iga Swiatek who elected not to play for Poland because she felt the trip to Glasgow was too soon after the WTA Finals in Fort Worth, Texas. Also not playing are No. 3 Jessica Pegula of the USA due to illness and No. 76 Emma Raducanu for the host team from Great Britain. She has a season-ending wrist injury.

Also not competing are No. 6 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and No. 8 Daria Kasatkina of Russia after their countries were banned from the competition because of the war in Ukraine.

There was no Fed Cup in 2020 due to the pandemic, so 2022 marks the second year with the new Billie Jean King Cup, named after the American, trail-blazing tennis great, and of the format change whereby the top 12 nations are grouped in one location. Last year it was at the O2 Arena in Prague.

A year ago, Canada (with Marino, Francoise Abanda and Zhao) defeated France and then lost to eventual champion Russia at the inaugural one-site BJK Cup Finals grouping.

In April in Vancouver, Canada earned its spot in this year’s final with a 3-0 victory over Latvia with Fernandez winning two singles and Marino the other.

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

Bruneau, shown above with coach Nathalie Tauziat, is replacing regular captain Heidi el Tabakh, absent for personal reasons.

Formerly captain from 2010 – 2018, Bruneau said, “it’s the best line-up I’ve ever had as a captain.” Looking ahead to the week, he added about his players, “(they’re) capable of everything if you look at who’s going to play No. 1 singles, No. 2 singles, the back-up and doubles. I think it’s unlimited. We need to focus on the first match and go round by round, match by match. It’s a very talented team with a lot of experience. They love to represent their country, which is a great asset. They handle those moments really well.”

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

Doubles stalwart Dabrowski has high hopes heading into her 18th tie dating back to 2013. “I think the make-up of this team is incredible and the camaraderie is amazing,” said the 30-year-old from Ottawa. “I feel very honoured to be part of this team, and can’t wait to get out there.”

NOTE: Canada’s opening tie vs Italy will be on Sportsnet One at 5 a.m. ET Thursday as well as on TVA Sports.

Photo: Martin Sidorjak

Feature Photo: Martin Sidorjak