The Canadian team heads into this weekend’s (Friday and Saturday) Fed Cup qualifier in Biel, Switzerland, with a major question on everyone’s mind – will Bianca Andreescu play?
The reigning US Open champion and world No. 6 has not played since October 30th when she had to retire after the first set of her second match at the year-end WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China.
“She’s improving every day by day,” said Canadian captain Heidi El Tabakh about Andreescu on Tuesday. “She still has a couple of days left. As of right now we haven’t made any decisions yet about the team. It’s going to happen when the time comes.”
(NOTE: In the interview here at the bottom – Andreescu talks about her status and where things stand at the moment.)
The other players on the team are No. 185-ranked (a career high) Leylah Annie Fernandez, No. 267 Genie Bouchard, 25, and Gabriela Dabrowski, 27, who’s No. 7 in doubles and No. 448 in singles.
With Bouchard’s ranking dropping after losing in the first round of the WTA 125K event in Newport Beach, California, last week, and Fernandez qualifying and playing in the main draw at the Australian Open, the 17-year-old from Laval, Que., is now well ensconced as the No. 2 ranked Canadian and would replace Andreescu as the No. 1 on the team if Andreescu is unable to play.
“I’m feeling confident that whatever happens we’re still in good shape,” El Tabakh said.
The Swiss captain Heinz Gunthardt, a former world No. 22, two-time Grand Slam doubles champion and long-time coach of German great Steffi Graf, said about the options on both teams, “it’s difficult to know who will play on their side and as a matter of fact we don’t really know who will play on our side either.
“Part of the reason we are here in limited numbers is because Stefanie Voegele played very well (runner-up in Newport Beach) in the United States, so she’s arriving a little bit later, and then Belinda is practising in Bratislava. (The 22 year old current world No. 5 has Slovak family roots.)
“Mostly we will play with Belinda, and most people know that pretty much unless she’s s injured. And then we have four other players of equal calibre.”
Those four are No. 68 Jil Teichmann, 22, No. 93 Viktorija Golubic, 27, No. 99 Voegele, 29, and No. 269 Timea Bacsinszky, 30.
“We will literally decide that at the last moment who’s going to walk out there,” the 60-year-old captain from Zurich said.
As for the uncertain status of Andreescu, Gunthardt noted, “if Bianca does not play, you don’t know how it would change things because you don’t know what shape she’s in. But even if she walks out, I don’t know if she’s going to be 100 per cent. You actually don’t know what it would change – you don’t know which Bianca is going to show up. Since there are so many unknowns, on our part it’s certainly kind of silly to speculate. We’re not going to try to pick a player in case of this or this happens. We’re just going to put the player out there that we feel is playing the best.”
Above is Gunthardt with Swiss team doctor Harry Leemann, who happens to be the husband of Swiss great Martina Hingis. Leemann and Hingis are the parents of a daughter Lia, who turns one years old later this month.
Fernandez, above with team hitting partner Hugh Di Feo, is making her second Fed Cup appearance after playing against the Czech Republic last April in Prostejov and losing to eventual French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova.
El Tabakh has faith in the 17 year old. “I think she’s on the right track of becoming a great player,” said the Canadian captain about the 2019 French Open junior champion. “She’s very disciplined and she’s had a great start to the year. She qualified for her first Grand Slam. She’s mentally tough and she’s a great fighter. It’s her second tie and she’s going to come in with a little bit more confidence.”
There was a lighter moment in El Tabakh’s media conference when a Swiss journalist asked her about the origins of her given name. “I clearly don’t look like a Heidi,” smiled El Tabakh, who was born in Egypt. “But my mom the liked the story (from the 19th century Swiss fictional tale) – Heidi in the mountains with her grandfather and Peter. So she wanted a daughter and she said if she got a daughter she would name her Heidi.”
The tie – with two singles on Friday and two reverse singles and a doubles on Saturday, will determine which of the two nations advances to the new-format Fed Cup (12-team) Finals to be held in Budapest from April 14-19.
Canada vs. Switzerland is being played at the Swiss Tennis Arena in Biel, a city of over 100,000 including surrounding districts. The centre court (see at top) has seating for 2,600.
“The girls like the surface,” said El Tabakh about the playing conditions. “There’s nothing new or weird about it. It’s a good thing we’re here a couple of days early to adjust to it. They like the way it plays.
El Tabakh, team coach Nathalie Tauziat, Andreescu and Fernandez arrived in Biel on Saturday, Dabrowski (above) on Sunday and Bouchard (below working out with strength and conditioning coach Clément Golliet) on Tuesday.
The matches begin at 2 p.m. (8 a.m. ET in Canada) on Friday and 1 p.m. (7 a.m. ET in Canada) on Saturday. There will be coverage on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.
Bianca Andreescu is in Biel with her Fed Cup teammates and had time on Tuesday, a day off from practice for her, to have a chat.
TT: What did you miss the most since you’ve been out?
BA: (Laughing) Playing, competing! It’s not easy because I’m injured again and I’m just trying my best to prevent as much as possible. It’s really hard to just sit back again – and miss the Australian Open especially after the amazing year I had in 2019 at the US Open. I really thought I could go back-to-back – but that’s life and you have to deal with those obstacles and I think I’m doing a pretty good job with that, but I’m just super eager to start playing again.
TT: Was it hard to follow and watch the Australian Open?
BA: Don’t get me wrong, I’m super happy for everyone that’s playing, especially Sonya (Kenin) – she did an amazing job the whole tournament. I watched a lot of her matches. But I really wanted to be there so it’s also tough at the same time. If there’s one thing I learned from being off and not playing is to stay as patient as possible because I have a long career ahead of me and I don’t want to rush anything and make things even worse than they are.
TT: What’s your actual status for this tie against the Swiss team?
BA: I think there’s still a chance. We haven’t made any decisions yet but I’m hoping I can play.
TT: What’s been the most important thing you’ve done in your rehab for the knee?
BA: I think it’s the mental aspect of everything. I think that’s the most important thing for me. I know I talk about it a lot – but I really do believe in it. I think if I’m healthy mentally then my knee will sort of sort itself out but at the same time I’m going to have to do exercises for it and rest, which I’ve been doing. But I think the mental part is an extra thing that helps me the most.
TT: Where did your friendship with Sonya (Kenin) start and how did it grow?
BA: It started in Acapulco when we first played each other (February, 2019 and Kenin won 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 in the semi-finals). I’d played many junior tournaments with her but we never really sat down and spoke like we did all of last year. I think that’s because we are kind of the up-and-comers, we kind of find ourselves…Since then we kind of just starting talking, hanging out and it got a bit more when we did the exhibition at the Aurora Games (in Albany, New York) before the US Open. And now seeing me winning a Grand Slam and her winning a Grand Slam it’s just crazy because I remember us talking about how we wanted to accomplish that as soon as possible and it’s funny how it happened back-to-back.
TT: I got a little bit mad on Saturday watching the women’s final on ESPN – not once did they mention the person who won the (2019) US Open?
BA: They didn’t, maybe that’s because I wasn’t playing.
TT: But you won the previous Grand Slam and it’s not like you disappeared off the planet. Obviously, I may be prejudiced, but I think you’re the best player in the world at the moment.
BA: Are you serious?
TT: Who’s been as consistent? You won Indian Wells and then Rogers Cup and the US Open. The only two loses you had at the end of the year were to Naomi Osaka in Beijing in three sets and you led 3-1 in each set, and to Simona Halep in Shenzhen and you had a match point. Those are loses but they’re as close as they can be so you’ve been more consistent than anybody. (Ashleigh) Barty has been pretty good – she’s the closest to you.
BA: I really though she (Barty) was going to win. It would have been sick for her to have Shenzhen (WTA Finals) and Australian Open back-to-back.
This is a general goods store in the Biel suburb of Solothurn. We don’t really have an explanation for the name, but it’s not a commerce we expected to see in this quaint old town.