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Canada splits with Belgium to open BJK Cup qualifier

Leylah Fernandez Leylah Fernandez - Getty Images

Vancouver's Rebecca Marino will be looking for payback when she steps on the tennis court Saturday.

After absorbing a tough 6-4, 4-6, 4-6 loss to Belgium's Yslaine Bonaventure at a Billie Jean King Cup qualifier in Vancouver on Friday, the Canadian is hungry to help her country battle its way to the finals.

“I really want to do well for my teammates, so I’m excited to get out there and get motivated," she said. "This is sort of giving me the burning coals of motivation to get back out there and get some revenge.”

The Canadians and Belgians are level at 1-1 after the first day of the best-of-five women's World Cup of tennis competition.

Earlier Friday, Leylah Fernandez of Laval, Que., cruised to a 6-0, 6-3 victory over Yanina Wickmayer.

“We’re tied at 1-1 but I really believe that we’re in a good position. Tomorrow’s a new day," said Canadian captain Heidi El Tabakh. "I think the girls played and fought their hardest today. And we’re going to rest and regroup and come back at it tomorrow. We’re ready to battle.”

The event will continue Saturday with singles matches between Fernandez and Bonaventure, and Marino and Wickmayer, before Fernandez and Ottawa's Gabriela Dabrowski battle Kirsten Flipkens and Greet Minnen in doubles play.

Fernandez, the world No. 50, dominated from the outset of Friday's opener, blasting an ace down the line just minutes in. The 20-year-old added three more across the one-hour, five-minute match.

“It’s hard to keep that consistency, but I’ve been working on it,” she said. “And I’m happy that in key moments when I needed it, I was able to use it. That’s given me a lot of confidence.”

With Fernandez up 5-0 in the first set, Belgium took a timeout and a trainer came out to inspect Wickmayer's left ankle.

The former world No. 12, who currently sits at 190th, said she rolled her ankle early in the first set and the injury made serving painful. She won 12-of-25 first service points across the match and chalked up three double faults.

“I kind of just kept fighting for every point and just kept positive and kept staying in the points,” Wickmayer said. “I don’t feel like I played badly in the first set, I just felt like she didn’t really give me any time to play my game.”

Wickmayer rallied in the second set, forcing the young Canadian to change up her shot selection.

In the opening game, Fernandez tapped a ball over the net, only to see her opponent stretch out and make the return. But Fernandez was in good position and got her racket up in time to put the ball well over Wickmayer's head.

The Belgian finally found an answer for Fernandez's serve in the seventh game and broke her opponent to cut the deficit to 5-2 before the Canadian closed out the win.

“I knew it was going to happen, that Yanina was going to come back, that she was going to figure me out. It’s tennis, it’s a puzzle,” Fernandez said.

“I think she found something and she got comfortable. So I just need to look back at the match and see what I can do differently so that doesn’t happen.”

Marino and Bonaventure's two-hour, 21-minute match proved to be a tightly contested affair, characterized by long rallies and punctuated by powerful shots.

“That was definitely a challenging match," said Marino, who fired 15 aces but also struggled with unforced errors, making 79.

"I feel like Ysaline definitely showed her fighting spirit. That’s something that frequently comes out at Billie Jean King Cup when you’re playing for your country. You fight until the end.”

Marino, the current world No. 81, finally closed out the 57-minute first set with a forehand shot inside the sideline.

The Canadian then jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the second, only to see the 86th-ranked Bonaventure claw her way back. Bonaventure went up 5-4 when Marino sent a return beyond the baseline, and she celebrated with an enthusiastic "C'mon!" and fist pump.

Marino couldn't replicate the comeback after Bonaventure went up 4-1 in the final set. She closed the gap to 4-3 but ultimately fell to the 28-year-old Belgian.

“I tried to stay focused on myself and go for my shots and be patient," Bonaventure said of the match's final points. "I was still leading in the third set, so I tried to look at the positives.”

In addition to a hometown crowd, the Canadian contingent had a familiar face courtside Friday. Bianca Andreescu, who was originally scheduled to play in the qualifier, provided encouragement from the Team Canada box.

At No. 27, Andreescu is Canada's top-ranked women's tennis player.

The 22-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., dropped out of the qualifier after suffering two torn ankle ligaments at the Miami Open last month. She was replaced by Toronto's Katherine Sebov, who is not scheduled to play.

The Vancouver event is one of nine qualifiers taking place around the globe this week. Winners will advance to November's finals.

Last year, Canada swept Latvia in a qualifier and advanced to the finals in Glasgow where they topped Italy before falling to Switzerland in group play. Switzerland went on to win the world title.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 14, 2023.