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Canada ready for challenge of opening BJK Cup Finals vs. host Spain

Leylah Fernandez Leylah Fernandez - The Canadian Press

An up-and-down tennis season has left Leylah Fernandez preaching the value of patience as she gets ready to lead the Canadian team at the Billie Jean King Cup Finals.

"I just want (the) results to come in quickly," Fernandez said of her game. "But the reality is you've got to be patient. You've got to go through so many losses, you've got to go through some bad moments so that the good ones can taste even sweeter."

Her first WTA Tour title of the season came at last month's Hong Kong Open. Her improved play of late has Fernandez feeling bullish about this week's 12-team competition in Spain.

The 21-year-old from Laval, Que., will anchor a Canadian side that includes doubles star Gabriela Dabrowski of Ottawa, Vancouver's Rebecca Marino, Montreal native Eugenie Bouchard and Marina Stakusic of Mississauga, Ont.

Competition begins Tuesday on the indoor hardcourts at Estadio la Cartuja. Canada will open its Group C round-robin schedule against host Spain on Wednesday before meeting Poland on Thursday.

The four group winners will advance to the semifinals. The final is scheduled for Sunday at the US$9.6-million event.

Fernandez, who enters with an 11-3 record over seven career ties, had difficulty putting multiple wins together over the first eight months of the season. The 2021 U.S. Open finalist found herself in qualifiers at several WTA Tour events and often making quick exits if she did reach the main draw.

Things started to turn once she made the round of 16 at the National Bank Open in August. Over the late summer/fall swing, she reached the quarterfinals in Guadalajara, was victorious in Hong Kong and made the semifinals at the Jiangxi Open.

Her doubles game has also steadily improved, making Fernandez -- who's ranked 35th in singles and a career-best 17th in doubles -- a big asset in the best-of-three format at the BJK Cup.

Each tie includes two singles matches followed by a doubles match.

"I'm extremely happy with the way that I finished my end of year," Fernandez said Monday from Seville. "It's been a tough 2023. I'm pretty disappointed with it but I've learned a lot."

Fernandez and Dabrowski teamed up for the deciding doubles win in a 3-2 victory over Belgium last April in Vancouver. The result sealed Canada's berth in the Finals.

"I think with each tie, our team is just getting stronger and stronger," Fernandez said.

Dabrowski, meanwhile, has been in top form. The world No. 7 teamed with New Zealand's Erin Routliffe to win the U.S. Open women's doubles crown and they made it to the semifinals at the WTA Finals over the weekend.

"She always pushes her partners to be better, to go for it, to not be afraid of the mistakes, to not be afraid of the result of the point, to do the right thing," Fernandez said. "With that comes a little bit of risk, but it comes with great results."

Canada is missing 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu, who has been nursing a back injury. The 166th-ranked Marino or 266th-ranked Bouchard are the favourites to get the other singles match assignments.

"I'm confident that we have all the firepower necessary to compete with the best nations in the world and we can't wait to get on court to prove it," said Canadian captain Heidi el Tabakh.

The lineup for each tie must be set one hour before the start of play.

"I believe this team is capable of winning it," Fernandez said. "I have a lot of confidence in our team."

Canada's best showing at this event came in 1988 when it reached the semifinals before falling to Czechoslovakia.

Canada did not make it out of group play last year in Glasgow. Switzerland advanced and went on to beat Australia in the final.

Spain will also host the Final 8 stage of the Davis Cup Finals from Nov. 21-26 in Malaga. Canada is the defending champion at the men's team event.

Montreal's Felix Auger-Aliassime headlines a Canadian roster that includes Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C., Montreal's Gabriel Diallo and Alexis Galarneau of Laval, Que.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 6, 2023.

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