Canada is suddenly a team tennis power
Billie Jean King Cup title follows last year's historic Davis Cup win
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When Canada won the Davis Cup last year, it felt like catching lightning in a bottle.
That unexpected victory was, in many ways, the product of an incredible hot streak by one player. Felix Auger-Aliassime, who'd recently won three consecutive tournaments on the ATP Tour, upset world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz in the Davis Cup group stage and then mowed through his three knockout-round opponents without dropping a set. Denis Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil contributed too, but it seemed like mostly a one-man show — and not a particularly repeatable one.
Fast-forward a year, and Canada's team tennis success doesn't feel like such a fluke anymore.
On Sunday in Spain, Canada pulled off another surprise, capturing the women's Billie Jean King Cup for the first time. Though not as ancient as the 123-year-old Davis Cup, this one has been around (under different names) for 60 years. In that time, Canada had reached the semifinals just once before (way back in 1988) and never made the final.
The outlook for this one didn't seem very promising after a difficult season for Canada's singles players on the WTA Tour. Leylah Fernandez, two years removed from her trip to the U.S. Open final, had fallen to 35th in the world rankings. And she was easily the top singles player on a squad with No. 176 Rebecca Marino, No. 258 Marina Stakusic and No. 276 Eugenie Bouchard (No. 91 Bianca Andreescu was out with a back injury).
But some kind of chemical reaction seemed to occur when these women came together for the 12-team championship round in Spain, where countries squared off in best-of-three contests ("ties" in tennis parlance) consisting of a pair of singles matches followed by a doubles.
WATCH | Stakusic helps power Canada to first BJK Cup victory:
The unexpected catalyst was Stakusic, a virtually unknown 18-year-old BJK Cup rookie who has never played a main-draw match on the WTA Tour. After team captain Heidi El Tabakh made the bold decision to start Stakusic over Marino and Bouchard for Canada's opening match, the teenager won both of her outings in the group stage to help Canada sweep Poland and Spain to advance to the semifinals for the first time in 35 years. Though she lost to 10th-ranked Barbora Krejcikova in the semis against the Czech Republic, Stakusic bounced back to defeat No. 43 Martina Trevisan to lead off Canada's Cup-winning sweep of Italy in the final.
Meanwhile, Fernandez was every bit as good as Auger-Aliassime a year ago. She won all four of her singles matches — including a clutch upset of seventh-ranked Czech Marketa Vondrousova (the reigning Wimbledon champion) in the semis. That kept Canada alive after Stakusic's loss, and Fernandez immediately followed it up by teaming with Gabriela Dabrowski to win the deciding doubles match over Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova — an elite tandem that has captured seven Grand Slam titles together, including this year's Australian Open. The next day, Fernandez clinched the Cup with her straight-sets victory over Italy's Jasmine Paolini.
Thanks to the heroics of Fernandez, Stakusic and Dabrowski (Bouchard also played a minor role, teaming with Dabrowski for doubles wins in both group-stage matchups after they were already decided), Canada now holds the premier team titles in both men's and women's tennis. And it can make it three in a row next week when Auger-Aliassime leads the men's squad into the Davis Cup Final 8 in Spain.
In another testament to Canada's current depth, the men qualified for the quarterfinals without the help of their top player, who skipped the group stage as 200th-ranked Alexis Galarneau led the way in wins over Italy, Sweden and Chile. Now Felix returns for next Tuesday's matchup vs. Finland, which does not have a singles player ranked in the top 70. Read more about Canada's recent team tennis success here.