Feature photo: Francoise Abanda in 2015 Fed Cup action.
A big upset from Francoise Abanda gave Canada hope, before backs-against-the-wall tennis from Belarus beat Canada 3-2 in Fed Cup World Group II on Sunday in Quebec City.
With a playoff berth to the top tier of Fed Cup on the line, Canada got the jump it needed on Sunday in the best-of-five tie against Belarus when Abanda put her country up 2-1 by beating world no. 74 Olga Govortsova 6-4, 6-4.
Abanda had lost her first match on Saturday to Aliaksandra Sasnovich (more on this below) but the 19-year-old rebounded on Sunday in a tie where both players struggled to hold serve. Abanda won six break points to Govortsova’s four, divided evenly over the two sets.
The Canadian teen is ranked no. 343 in the women’s table, making this a particularly stunning victory. Abanda showed tremendous resiliency playing in front of a home crowd, where she twice battled back from a 4-2 deficit in both sets to win timely break points before converting each frame in her favour.
That fearless effort from Abanda came after Wozniak, in her first match back on the Fed Cup team since shoulder surgery, also beat Govortsova on Saturday to allow her country the chance it needed to stay in the tie against heavily favoured opposition.
With two shots at returning to the cusp of the top tier in women’s international team tennis, neither Wozniak in the next singles match, nor Gabriela Dabrowski and Carol Zhao in the doubles contest could close out Belarus.
Defending her country’s Fed Cup fate, Sasnovich got timely breaks against Wozniak to win both sets in a 6-4, 6-4 victory to level the series 2-2, setting up the decisive doubles rubber.
Belarus paired Vera Lapko with Ogla Govortsova, the latter playing her third match in search of redemption after losing two individual contests. Canada responded with Dabrowski and Zhao, the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games champions.
That the Canadians are ranked much higher in doubles to their Belarusian counterparts didn’t matter to the visitors. They marched out to an early first set lead to dominate the opener, and got the key points they needed in a closer second set to win 6-2, 6-4 for a shot at World Group playoffs to be among the elite eight in women’s international team tennis next season.
Canada now goes to World Group II playoffs to defend its place in the second tier of Fed Cup. Countries Canada could face in order to maintain World Group II status for next season are Argentina, Belgium, Chinese Taipei and Ukraine.
In its bid for a return to the top tier of World Group, Canada has a win and a loss after the first day of Fed Cup matches against Belarus in Quebec City.
Returning to the team after struggling with injuries that resulted in shoulder surgery, Aleksandra Wozniak levelled the tie winning the second rubber 6-2, 6-2 over Olga Govortsova. Earlier in the day Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich beat Canada’s Francoise Abanda 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.
Wozniak made her presence felt early, working to wrestle a break point out of Govortsova’s opening service game to take a 2-0 lead in the first set, an advantage she consolidated on serve. The Canadian lost a break point to her opponent up 3-1, but won it right back in the next game, before breaking Govortsova a third time to take a one set lead.
The second set played out similarly with Wozniak jumping ahead to a 4-0 advantage on two service breaks. Losing her next game mattered little with the Canadian enjoying a cushion. She went on to break Govortsova a sixth time to close out the match.
“I always play well in Fed Cup,” Wozniak said after the match, her 32nd singles win and 4oth overall in the competition.
“Playing in front of people, for my country is something magical. I reached the shallows in my career with my injury and this win will help me regain my level of play. “
Wozniak, 28, had reached as high as number 34 in the WTA end of season rankings back in 2008. In 2012, the year she represented Canada at the Olympic Games in London 2012, Wozniak finished the season at no. 43.
In the previous rubber, Sasnovich beat Abanda to give Belarus a 1-0 start to the best-of-five tie. With a singles ranking of no. 99, Sasnovich is pegged to meet Wozniak in the second match on Sunday. Abanda is expected to play Govortsova in Sunday’s opener.
Canada could also use Gabriela Dabrowski or Carol Zhao in either of the singles matches on Sunday, although they could very well be saved in case the doubles match is needed as the decider between the two countries.
The winner of the tie goes into World Group I playoffs for a chance at the top tier of the Fed Cup in 2017.
Dabrowski and Zhao have winning history playing together, the pair took the women’s Pan American Games doubles title at Toronto 2015 last summer.