Czechia 1-2 Canada: Fearless Fernandez leads Canada to maiden BJK Cup final11/11/2023 12:09
Canada will contest their maiden Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge final after a stunning victory over 11-time champions Czech in a pulsating semi-final
By Ross McLean
Canada have made trailblazing history and will contest their first ever Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge final after a stunning semi-final victory over 11-time champions Czechia in Seville.
The names Leylah Fernandez, Marina Stakusic, Rebecca Marino, Eugenie Bouchard and Gabriela Dabrowski will be forever woven in the fabric of Canadian tennis following this monumental achievement.
This intrepid quintet will now face four-time champions Italy, who earlier on Saturday defeated Slovenia to reach their first final since 2013, as the battle to top the women’s World Cup of Tennis podium reaches its climax.
“I’m just ecstatic,” Fernandez told billiejeankingcup.com. “I am extremely proud of our team spirit and effort. It was one of our toughest ties because we were playing one of the best players in the world individually and the best team in the world.
“It was such a tough test for us, but we were super excited about it, motivated and wanted to put on a show. Now I cannot wait for the final against Italy, who will bring a lot of heart and a lot of grit to the court.
“It’s a final, so we are going to leave it all out there. Hopefully with fingers crossed and if stars align, we can lift the trophy. We are going to bring the same team spirit, work ethic and fight as today.”
Fernandez enjoyed an unforgettable evening which concluded with her and Dabrowski joining forces to dispatch seven-time Grand Slam doubles champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova 7-5 7-6(3) in a decisive doubles battle.
The 21-year-old – the beating heart of this impressive Canada team – spent a total of three hours and 51 minutes on court as she produced another masterclass that took her impressive Billie Jean King Cup record to 15 match-wins from the last 16.
Fernandez gave her nation renewed hope, levelling the tie at 1-1 courtesy of a 6-2 2-6 6-3 victory over world No. 8 and fellow left-hander Marketa Vondrousova – her first victory over a Top 10 player since the 2021 US Open.
Fernandez was simply in irresistible form and inflicted just a second Billie Jean King Cup loss on Vondrousova, who had won 26 consecutive sets – 13 matches – since losing her debut match to CoCo Vandeweghe of the United States in 2017.
Krejcikova had earlier fired Czechia into the lead by downing teenager Stakusic 6-2 6-1 in the opening singles. Despite defeat, Stakusic has enjoyed a fabulous week, and Fernandez hopes Canada's performance here will inspire the next Stakusic.
“This an amazing thing for Canadian tennis,” said Fernandez. “I think for us as a country, we have always been labelled as a hockey nation, which is true, but we are also a tennis nation.
"There are a lot of girls and boys that are picking up a racket, playing and competing. They have big dreams, like all of us, and I think for us to be doing this, showcasing that Canada is also one of the best tennis-playing countries in the world, is an honour and a privilege.”
For context, Canada were contesting only their second Billie Jean King Cup semi-final and first since 1988 whereas Czechia, who have won six titles since 2011, were competing in their 26th. Irrespective of statistics and past glories, Canada held their nerve when the pressure was on.
It is all the more impressive when you consider that Fernandez and Dabrowski have not played together as a doubles pairing for a year – since the 2022 Billie Jean King Cup Finals – although both have enjoyed impressive doubles seasons.
“I thought they [Krejcikova and Siniakova] played some of the best tennis they have played lately,” said Dabrowksi, who won the US Open doubles alongside New Zealand's Erin Routliffe in September.
“I’m really grateful that Leylah was so present after a really tough singles match. It’s a lot to ask of someone to come back within 30 minutes and play again. Our games match up well. I felt where I’m weaker, Leylah is stronger and vice versa.”
Canada now have the chance to emulate their nation’s Davis Cup team, who topped the men’s World Cup of Tennis podium 12 months ago with victory over Australia in Malaga.
“To have a chance to do that is incredible,” added Dabrowski. “I think over the last decade, the level of tennis in Canada has gone up tenfold.
“You see the growth of the sport in our country increasing so much, so I think to be a part of the team that could win what is considered the World Cup of Tennis would just be absolutely phenomenal and hopefully inspire generations to come to follow their dreams.
“I'm not going to play forever, but hopefully someone like Marina [Stakusic] is going to be on the team for a really long time and have even more success. It’s just a wonderful opportunity to have a crack at a title here.”