Rebecca Marino hugs Leylah Fernandez

Photo : Martin Sidorjak

Canadians Bianca Andreescu and Leylah Fernandez played terrific tennis in the first and final sets of Friday’s two singles matches at the Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge Finals in Glasgow. But that wasn’t enough as Switzerland’s Victorija Golubic and Belinda Bencic dominated play in the sets in between – winning both singles matches on their way to claiming the tie 2-1 to advance to Saturday’s semi-finals.

Andreescu started red-hot and won the opening set 6-2 in 44 minutes. Later, Golubic said that she was thinking that it would be “an easy two sets loss.” But she completely reversed the momentum by winning the first three games of the second set on her way to a comeback 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory.

It was the opposite from the Canadian standpoint in the second match as Bencic couldn’t miss and completely outplayed Fernandez to take the opening set 6-0 in 26 minutes. The second set was a different story as Fernandez found her range and basically played toe-to-toe with the current world No. 12 in a set that featured dynamic rallies and bold shot-making.

Fernandez broke back when Bencic served for the match at 5-4 but couldn’t do it a second time when the 25-year-old Swiss served at 6-5, erring long with a forehand on the first match point to come out on the short end of a 6-0, 7-5 score.

Bianca Andreescu hits a backhand.
Photo : Martin Sidorjak

“In the first set I felt like I was the more aggressive person,” Andreescu said about the match with Golubic, “but she was also missing. In the second and third sets I thought I was doing the same thing and then she just came out on fire. I felt like being down kind of made me feel like I need to do more, but then when I was doing more it also wasn’t working.”

In the final set, Andreescu trailed 5-1 but held serve and then broke and held again to get back to 4-5 playing much more attacking tennis against a suddenly vulnerable Golubic.

“I just kind of had to go for it at that point and also I felt that she was getting a bit tight,” Andreescu said. “In certain moments her ball wasn’t as heavy as it was previously – so I took advantage of that. And then in the last game she hit two body serves and (I) couldn’t get them over the net. Honestly, it could have gone either way and I was feeling really good in that game…but it wasn’t meant to be. Today was like super up and down but I fought as much as I could and I felt I definitely could have played better in certain moments.”

When asked if there had been an element of fatigue, Andreescu responded with characteristic unfiltered candour saying “a little bit, that’s kind of normal but I had to bounce back. And (smiling)…I wish I didn’t sweat as much as I do.”

Anyone watching the match would have marveled at the 30-year-old Golubic’s one-handed backhand, a rarity on the women’s (and men’s) tour.

She explained its origin: “I started actually a double-handed backhand and forehand because Monica Seles (the nine-time Grand Slam champion from the 1980s and 1990s) was kind of a family idol. So I played completely different until I was 12. So I was taking the ball early and having a really good time and kind of going offensive. Then my coach decided to switch to one-handed forehand and backhand because he thought I wanted to create something in the game. He thought it would be a better future. (Smiles) I think he chose right.”

Belinda Bencic hugs her team captain.
Photo : Martin Sidorjak

When Swiss captain Heinz Gunthardt was later asked why he selected Golubic rather than the higher-ranked Jil Teichmann for the opening singles, he said, “I just felt her game matches well with Andreescu’s game because she naturally varies her spins and speed and things like that, which I think makes it a little more difficult for Andreescu to play her game that she likes.”

Leylah Fernandez hits a forehand.
Photo : Martin Sidorjak

As for Fernandez, she was playing Bencic for the third time in six months and they know each other’s tennis well. “She has a very unique game,” Bencic said about Fernandez, “which I understand a lot because we both take the ball very early – and she does it very well.”

About the dramatic change in the second set, Bencic explained, “the first set I played really incredible, I felt like I couldn’t miss the ball. It was all like really fast. In that moment 6-0, 1-0, there’s a ball change and it changes a lot. But I was expecting that it’s going to be tight. It not easy to be 6-0, and 6-1 because that doesn’t happen against players like her. And of course she’s going to fight back, so I was prepared for a tight match. I got a little bit tight in the end. I think it’s because I really care and want to win and was aware of the occasion – serving out to get into the semi-final.” 

Sylvain Bruneau (middle) talks to Leylah Fernandez (right) as Belinda Bencic walks past.
Photo : Martin Sidorjak

Gunthardt offered his insight on the Bencic – Fernandez match, saying, “they’ve played several times and I think Leylah has an idea of how Belinda usually likes to play so she got wrong-footed all the time in the beginning because Belinda played slightly different – much more cross-court than she usually does.

Then after a while, Leylah adjusted – ‘she’s playing cross court, I’m staying in that corner and I’m covering it.’ I had a feeling it wasn’t going to go like that for two sets. But I think Belinda played about as good a first set as I’ve seen her play.”

Gabriela Dabrowski hits a volley while Leylah Fernandez looks on from the baseline
Photo : Martin Sidorjak

In the third match after the final outcome was decided, Gabriela Dabrowski and Fernandez combined for a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Teichmann and Simona Waltert in the doubles. Captain Sylvain Bruneau later explained that he chose Fernandez to partner with doubles stalwart Dabrowski for two reasons: 1. Fernandez was very disappointed after her singles loss and he wanted to boost her spirits. 2. with a view to the pair possibly playing in future Billie Jean King Cup competitions together as well as the 2024 Olympics in Paris. 

After Thursday’s brilliant start with an impressive 3-0 victory over Italy, the loss to Switzerland wasn’t easy to swallow.

Bruneau put things in perspective saying, “our preparation aspect was good. We got here early and had a first tie later in the week so we had five days of training that went well. And in terms of the competition, it was kind of two-step. Against Italy it was a really, really good day, very positive – the girls played terrific tennis against a good team and everything went our way. Today (Friday) it was sort of the reverse. It was much tighter and the first match slipped away from us. Then Belinda started impeccably and Leylah, as she always does, she fought as hard as she could to get us to a decisive doubles match. If there had been a decisive doubles, we would have been in a good position. But overall my players gave everything they had. I think that’s all you can ask. They gave everything in preparing and in the competitive aspect. So you can be disappointed but you can also be proud of the way the team carried themselves and I also include also the staff that are behind them.”

The Canadian team came out dressed in black, not its usual red, and Bruneau later explained the reason. “When you have similar colours,” he said, “the Swiss were higher ranked and so it was a home tie for them – and we were away. I guess it has to do with TV and to be able to tell the difference between the players.”

It might not have effected the final outcome, but supporters of Friday’s team in black would surely have preferred, and been much more comfortable, watching them sporting their customary red.


Team Canada listens to Billie Jean King.
Photo : Martin Sidorjak

The Canadian team had a chance to meet and listen to living legend Billie Jean King during the eponymous competition in Glasgow this week.

Feature Photo: Martin Sidorjak