Leylah Fernandez was the hero of Team Canada as she won all her singles and doubles rubbers to lead her nation to a decisive win over Italy and their first Billie Jean King Cup triumph, well aided by Marina Stakusic, who provided yet another upset victory on Sunday in Spain.
Congratulations to Canada for capturing their first Billie Jean King Cup title. They played some incredible tennis this week and are deserving World Champions, and it was a great honour to present them with the trophy. Italy have also been fantastic this week, even though they have just come up short today. It has been a special week here in Seville, and I thank all the players, fans and staff who have made it so inspirational. I’m already excited for 2024! Billie Jean King
Fernandez continued her unbeaten run as Canada hoisted the Billie Jean King Cup trophy for the first time in the World Cup of Tennis’ 60 years history with a 2-0 win over Italy.
18-year old Stakusic, the World No 258 from Ontario, put Canada ahead by upsetting No 43 Martina Trevisan, 7-5 6-3, for the biggest win of her career, before Fernandez sealed the deal by beating Jasmine Paolini, 6-2 6-3, at Estadio la Cartuja in Seville.
“I’m extremely happy – ecstatic!” Fernandez said. “It’s the first time that Canada has ever won Billie Jean King Cup, and I can finally say, ‘we’re world champions’, and we deserve it!
“We have worked really hard these past years and, as I have said before, every year we just keep improving and it’s showing on the tennis court. It is showing in competitions and now it has shown on the biggest stage in the world.”
Ranked 35, Fernandez, the runner-up in the 2021 US Open to Britain’s Emma Raducanu, produced 5 wins for Canada at the Finals, while Stakusic entered the week without a win over a Top 100 opponent but earned 3 of them while representing her nation in Spain.
Canada beat 11-time champion Czechia in the semi-finals, while 4-time champion Italy advanced past Slovenia for its first final appearance since 2013.
Earlier in the week, Canada swept its way to a first-place finish in Group C, with wins over host Spain and Poland.
Fernandez & Gabriela Dabrowski clinched a 2-1 semi-final win with a 7-5 7-6(3) win over Barbora Krejcikova & Katerina Siniakova in the doubles rubber, who have since announced they will not play together for the 2024 season.
Having first teamed up as teenagers to win 3 junior Slam titles in 2013, Krejcikova & Siniakova transitioned their success onto the Hologic WTA Tour in recent years to become the dominant force on the doubles circuit ever since they captured their first major titles at Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2018 and rose to No 1 for the first time.
Their back-to-back seasons in 2021 and 2022, which saw them complete their career set of 4 Grand Slam titles, Olympic gold, and the WTA Finals to win each of the sport’s biggest titles at least once, cemented the team as the most successful active pairing.
Saturday’s semi-final went smoothly for Fernandez, who notched upset wins in both singles and doubles, but on Sunday, Canada had to stare down two Top 50 players in Trevisan and Paolini, each of whom had also gone a perfect 3-0 in singles play coming into the championship tie.
While Italy has had a fairly recent legacy of Billie Jean King Cup success in its favour, having won 4 titles in an 8-year span from 2006 to 2013, Canada’s previous best showing at the BJK Cup came in 1988, when it fell to Czechoslovakia in the semi-finals.
The Canadian team, captained by Heidi el Tabakh, also included Eugenie Bouchard and Rebecca Marino, but was missing 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, who has been nursing a back injury.
It was left to surging teenager Stakusic, though, to set the tone with a commanding victory over former Top 20 player Trevisan, and while both were nearly equal in winners, the Canadian took charge when facing the Italian’s second serve, claiming 76% of those points.
Stakusic, who has won 3 ITF Challenger titles in the second half of this year, capped off a break-through week by slamming a forehand winner past Trevisan on her 5th match point to score her first win over a current Top 50 player in her burgeoning career.
“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.”
Heading into the second match, only 5 spots in the current rankings separated Fernandez, the No 35, and Paolini at 30, but the Canadian had won both of their previous meetings in straight sets, including in Doha qualifying this year.
After taking the first set on Sunday, Fernandez had to grind out a number of lengthy games against Paolini en route to a 5-2 lead in the second.
With Fernandez serving for the title in that game, Paolini made one last stand, slamming a forehand winner on the sideline to break and keep the tie alive.
It was a brief wobble for Fernandez, though, who erased 2 game points at 5-3 before crushing a return winner to earn her first championship point, and then she fired a passing winner beyond Paolini, taking the 1-hour and 39-minute win to wrap up Canada’s historic week.
“She [Fernandez] 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.”
Canada became the 13th different nation to win the Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge after capping a perfect week in Seville, and the women’s team needed just a single year to match the heroics of the Canadian men, who won their country’s first Davis Cup title 12 months ago.
“This team, these girls are incredible,” Heidi El Tabakh said. “I’m just so happy, I’m happy for the team and happy for everyone involved.
“It’s been an incredible week and to finish it off by winning the Billie Jean King Cup – this is a dream come true!”
Dabrowski added: “Everyone’s put in literal blood, sweat, and tears over the years. 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.”
Canada received an unprecedented $2.4 million winners’ cheque, which was presented by Dan Towriss, CEO and President of Group 1001, the parent company of Gainbridge.
Thanks to the title sponsor’s partnership and support, the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup Finals offered a record total Player Prize Money (PPM) purse of $9.6 million, which is equivalent to the total on offer to male players in the Davis Cup Finals.
For the second consecutive year, the new champions were presented with a special edition Billie Blue jacket each, designed by tournament official apparel partner, Tory Burch.
The design, unveiled at last year’s final in Glasgow, uses the iconic ‘Billie Blue’ that Billie Jean King wore memorably throughout her career, including in her famous Battle of the Sexes match.
“Congratulations to Canada for capturing their first Billie Jean King Cup title,” King said. “They played some incredible tennis this week and are deserving World Champions, and it was a great honour to present them with the trophy.
“Italy have also been fantastic this week, even though they have just come up short today. It has been a special week here in Seville, and I thank all the players, fans and staff who have made it so inspirational. I’m already excited for 2024!”
David Haggerty, ITF President, said: “Today has been the perfect way to end a wonderful week in Seville. I’d like to congratulate Canada on their well-deserved title win and my commiserations go to Italy. Like every player who’s taken part this week, they have done their nations proud.
“I would also like to thank the Region of Andalucia for their support throughout this event, our title sponsor Gainbridge for helping to make this year’s record level of prize money possible, and Microsoft, Magellan, Tory Burch, Iberdrola and Franklin Templeton for their ongoing support of this event.
“2024 is going to be a very exciting year as we continue to build on the recent growth of the women’s World Cup of Tennis.”
Both the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge Finals and Junior Finals took place in Andalucia as part of a wider agreement between the ITF and the Region of Andalucia, which will also see the Davis Cup Final 8 take place in Malaga from 21-26 November.
The Junior Davis Cup also took place in Córdoba last week, with Czechia clinching the title, while USA won the Billie Jean King Cup by Gainbridge Juniors title.