The basic math of the Canada – Czech Republic opening round Fed Cup tie in Quebec City this weekend was 8-1. The Czechs had eight players ranked in the Top 100 and Canada had one.

And…when that one, Genie Bouchard, didn’t show up to play, the numbers tilted overwhelmingly in the Czechs’ favour. It was reflected in the results on the opening day of the World Group 1 match-up at the PEPS arena on the campus of Laval University. Even in the absence of world No. 4 Petra Kvitova and No. 15 Lucie Safarova, the visiting Czechs were just too strong – No. 22 Karolina Pliskova defeated Canada’s Francoise Abanda 6-2, 6-4 in an hour and 13 minutes and then No. 62 Tereza Smitkova outplayed Gabriela Dabrowski 6-1, 6-2 in 59 minutes.


It was not an unexpected result and the crowd at the PEPS did all it could to support the home team right from the start. With Abanda down love-40 in the very first game, there was a loud, rousing cheer to try to boost her spirits. She responded with one of her best shots of the day – a down-the-line forehand winner.

But Pliskova broke serve on the following point and was off on a positive note and able to play more freely.

The announced crowd was 2,475, but to my eye the 3,004 stadium was no more than half full.


With Aleksandra Wozniak (recovering from shoulder surgery), Genie Bouchard (electing not to play) and Sharon Fichman (upper leg injury) not available for singles, it was always going to be a big ask for Canadian captain Sylvain Bruneau’s squad.

“It’s obvious that we are the underdogs, so you look at it as giving a chance to the players behind them and seeing how they’ll do,” he said. “But Aleksandra is hurt, Eugenie isn’t here and Sharon is hurt.

“Francoise and Gabriela had played well during the training camp – but this was different – things were faster, definitely faster against the Czechs.”

Most surprising probably was Smitkova. She is something of a straight line player – hitting the ball hard and flat with consistency to take control of rallies.

It was also interesting – even compared to her 6-foot-1 teammate Pliskova – the 5-foot-9 Smitkova was serving big first serves– frequently above 180 km/hr. Pliskova tended to be in the 170s max range while the two Canadians were more down in the 150s.


The only real drama on the day came in the second set of the Pliskova – Abanda match when the tall Czech served for the match. She later conceded she tightened up a bit – hitting four double faults, and allowing Abanda to have her only break point of the afternoon. But she responded to that with a 175 km/hr ace.

Still Abanda, appearing to be finally feeling her way into the match, did save three match points before missing wide with a forehand on the fourth.

“It was a different vibe on the court that I’m not very used to right now,” she said referring to the difference between Fed Cup and regular tour tennis. “I really couldn’t find my rhythm the entire match and I was a little bit uptight in letting go my shots unfortunately.”

Abanda continued, “Pliskova has a big serve and it’s really hard to break her so it was really important for me to hold serve. But I wasn’t able to do that and it made things much more difficult.”

Pliskova took some big cuts on the Abanda second serve and, even if she missed a few, it created a pressure and led to six double faults (eight overall) in the first set.


“I was probably a little bit less nervous than she was because I started playing better in the beginning,” Pliskova said. “She did some double faults that helped me to do a quick break in the first game. That was the key why I won the first set.

“The second set, she actually started to play better, not making as many mistakes and was more solid from the baseline. But I had one break until the last game (at 5-4) when I was a little bit nervous. I made some double faults but in the end the ace (her ninth) saved me on the break point. So I’m happy I made it.”

Pliskova, who lost 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 to Bouchard when the Montrealer won her first tournament title in Nuremberg, Germany, last May, made a slightly expected remark in her on-court interview after her win. Asked about her goals, she replied, “I’d love to stay somewhere where I am right now, or go even better.”

It may have just been her expressing herself modestly in a second language, but many tennis observers believe that she can do much better than status quo.

Now 22, Pliskova’s ranking has gone from No. 120 year-end in 2012 to No. 67 in 2013 and No. 24 last year.


She will be a tough opponent for Dabrowski in Sunday’s opening match – a potential clincher for the Czechs in the best-of-five match tie. Dabrowski, ranked No. 185, can take encouragement from a win the only time they have played – a 6-4, 6-2 victory over the Czech in the Rogers Cup qualifying first round in 2013 in Toronto.

On Saturday, Dabrowski led 1-0 in the opening set and 2-0 in the second, only to lose six games in a row in both of them.

“I think in the first set I was rushing a little bit,” she said. “It’s very loud and it’s something I need to get used to. In the second set, all of the games were very close. I didn’t rush but things just didn’t turn out my way unfortunately. I felt I was really well prepared, but I didn’t feel I was able to impose the game-style that I wanted to. I felt that she was handling things that I was throwing at her pretty well.”

Smitkova, who qualified and made the round-of-16 at Wimbledon last year at just 19, was happy with her effort against Dabrowski, especially in her Fed Cup debut. “I think it was one of my better matches because there was so much pressure,” she said. “I handled it really well. The last few months I’ve been playing more stable like this, so I’m happy with that.”

Apparently Smitkova had not felt she was playing well in the practice leading into the tie, but she certainly rose to the occasion with a solid, clean performance against Dabrowski.

On Sunday, depending on the result of the Pliskova – Dabrowski match, she is slated to face Abanda in the fourth singles.

A comeback for the depleted host side does not seem likely but captain Sylvain Bruneau is still working at pushing his players.

“We’ll have to play much better tennis, one day at a time, one match at a time,” he said somewhat sternly. “We have to go out with a positive spirit and battle. But we have to do a few things differently if we really want to make things difficult for them.”

Expanding on his last remark, he said, “we’ll have to put more pressure on them. We have to do more, not just wait for them to make mistakes.”

One thing the Canadian side will not be doing is changing the line-up. Sharon Fichman’s injury issue will prevent her from being available in singles and 16-year-old Charlotte Robillard-Millette is not an option because of her youth and inexperience.

A final number from day one: Pliskova said that she had received texts – both before and after her match against Abanda – from absent teammates Kvitova and Safarova. But zero was the total of similar messages from Bouchard to her fellow Canadian players in Quebec City.