Tennis

Stakusic, Fernandez power Canada to 1st-ever Billie Jean King Cup title

Canada defeated Italy to capture its first Billie Jean King Cup title on Sunday, thanks to straight-sets singles victories by Marina Stakusic and Leylah Fernandez.

Young Canadians sweep singles matches vs. Italy in Seville, Spain

Five women, wearing white and red clothing, smile and celebrate while holding a silver trophy, as confetti drops from the sky.
Marina Stakusic, left, and Leylah Fernandez, second from right, hold the trophy after winning the Billie Jean King Cup finals in La Cartuja stadium on Sunday in Seville, Spain. (Manu Fernandez/The Associated Press)

Canada's women are Billie Jean King Cup champions for the first time, thanks to Leylah Fernandez's straight-sets victory (6-2, 6-3) over Italy's Jasmine Paolini on Sunday at the international team tennis tournament in Seville, Spain.

Two hours earlier, Marina Stakusic of Mississauga, Ont., opened the best-of-three tie with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Martina Trevisan to improve to 3-1 on the week.

"It feels amazing and I'm extremely proud that I was able to get to represent Canada on the biggest stage," Fernandez, the 2021 U.S. Open runner-up, said in an on-court interview. "To do it in front of Billie Jean, it means the world to me, to us and hopefully we can keep going, celebrate tonight and just have fun."

WATCH l Canada wins 1st-ever Billie Jean King Cup title: 

Canada's tennis stars win country's first Billie Jean King Cup

5 months ago
Duration 2:03
Leylah Fernandez led Canada to its first-ever Billie Jean King Cup win — the most prestigious tennis title in women's international team play.

The 35th-ranked Fernandez, who hails from Laval, Que., broke Paolini's serve in the final game to seal the victory in one hour 39 minutes.

"She played at an amazing level today," Paolini said. "For me, it was tough to try to do something. She was always pushing me behind the line, she was always taking the time to take the winner."

Fernandez, 21, won all five of her matches this week, helping Canada advance to the final, prevailing 7-5, 7-6 (3) with doubles partner Gabriela Dabrowski over Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova of 11-time champion Czech Republic in Saturday's semifinals.

WATCH l Fernandez tops Paolini to clinch title: 

Leylah Fernandez clinches Canada's 1st Billie Jean King Cup championship

5 months ago
Duration 2:36
The Laval, Que. native defeated Italy's Jasmine Paolini in straight sets (6-2, 6-3) to propel Canada to a 2-0 series win and their 1st-ever Billie Jean King Cup title.

"I don't know what to say," Canada's captain Heidi El Tabakh said. "I'm so proud of this team, these girls are incredible.

"It's a dream come true."

Canada's previous best showing at this event came in 1988 when it fell to the Czechs in the semifinals.

"Everyone's put in literal blood, sweat, and tears over the years," said Dabrowski, an Ottawa native. "Like, literal blood, sweat, and tears. It's felt like on one hand like a huge relief, but in the most positive way that I could say it. It's like a weight has been lifted off our shoulders."

Last November, Felix Auger-Aliassime led Canada to its first Davis Cup title in the long history of the premier team event in men's tennis.

Canada's team will receive $2.4 million US in prize money for Sunday's victory, a record for the women's team event formerly known as the Fed Cup and equivalent to this year's Davis Cup men's champion. As the 13th nation to win, team members also receive Billie Blue jackets.

Earlier in the week, Canada swept its way to a first-place finish in Group C with wins over host Spain and Poland. A 2-1 victory over Czechia followed in the semifinal with Fernandez and Dabrowski clinching the tie with a 7-5, 7-6 (3) win in the doubles match.

Stakusic, the virtually unknown BJK Cup rookie, grabbed headlines early in the tournament. Ranked 258th in the world, she was selected by El Tabakh over the more experienced Rebecca Marino (ranked 176th) and Eugenie Bouchard (273rd) in the team's first match Wednesday and beat 65th-ranked Rebeka Masarova 6-3, 6-1.

'We really believe in ourselves'

A day later, Stakusic upset No. 63 Magdalena Frech of Poland 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 to send Canada to the semifinals for the first time in 35 years.

"I knew that we all were gaining confidence and we really believe in ourselves," Stakusic said. "It all ended up paying off in the end."

She produced a nerveless display on Sunday to beat an opponent ranked 43rd.

WATCH | Stakusic begins Sunday's final with straight-sets win over Trevisan: 

Canada's Marina Stakusic opens Billie Jean King Cup finals with victory

5 months ago
Duration 1:43
The 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont. downed Italy's Martina Trevisan in straight sets (7-5, 6-3) to give Canada a 1-0 lead in their first Billie Jean King Cup finals appearance.

Only when victory was within her grasp did Stakusic wobble when four match points went adrift as Trevisan served at 2-5.

But she shrugged off that disappointment and powered through her next service game, ending the contest with a crunching forehand winner.

"I'm so happy and honoured that I could play this week, this has been the best week of my life," Stakusic, who did not even play a WTA main draw match this year, said on court.

Canada was missing 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., who has been nursing a back injury.

Canada's previous 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 2022 final.

Meanwhile, Spain will host the Final 8 stage of the Davis Cup Finals from Nov. 21-26 in Malaga.

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.

With files from The Canadian Press & Reuters

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