Canada upset 11-times champion Czechia, 2-1, to reach the trophy match of the Billie Jean King Cup Finals, where they will meet Italy on Sunday in Seville, Spain.
I'm just ecstatic. Extremely proud of our team spirit, team effort. I think today was one of our toughest ties, because we are playing against one of the best players in the world individually and the best team in the world of Billie Jean King Cup. We were just super excited, motivated, and we wanted to put on a show. Like I said, I'm extremely proud of our team, of our team spirit, and I can't wait for tomorrow's final. Leylah Fernandez
Leylah Fernandez led a Canadian recovery from a match down to defeat the Czech Republic, beating Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova in singles before partnering Gabriela Dabrowski to a famous doubles win over Barbora Krejcikova & Katerina Siniakova to guide her country to its first final in the 60-year old competition, while 4-times champions Italy overcame Slovenia, 2-0, in Saturday’s first semi-final tie.
Italy last reached the final of the Billie Jean King cup in 2013, beating Russia to win a 4th title, and Martina Trevisan got her nation off to a strong start, when the World No 43 beat Slovenia’s Kaja Juvan, 7-6(6) 6-3, in a gruelling 2 hour and 20 minute contest, which saw the two register 110 unforced errors between them.
“It was my first semi-final here in this competition, and when you are on court, and you are not playing just for you, but you are playing for an entire country, for all the team, for my teammates, it’s not easy to manage the emotions,” admitted Trevisan.
Trevisan broke her opponent 3 times, before Jasmine Paolini, the World No 30, gave the Italians an insurmountable lead after seeing off Tamara Zidansek, 6-2 4-6 6-3.
Earning the first break in the 3rd game of the first set, Trevisan took a 2-1 lead, but Juvan broke back in the 8th game to draw level at 4-4.
Trevisan fended off a set point at 5-6 in the tiebreak and won the final 3 points to take the first set, and although Juvan converted her 5th break point in the 3rd game to lead 2-1 in the second, the Italian broke straight back to draw level at 2-2, and then earned her second break before sealing the win on her 4th match point.
“What they have done, it’s something incredible,” Tathiana Garbin, the Italian Captain said. “We want always to push ourselves to the limit, and we try to dream again tomorrow.”
Slovenia, the lowest ranked side of the 12 competing teams, had already made history by reaching the semi-finals for the first time, but, against an Italian team whose 5 players have all reached a career-high WTA ranking this year, they could not continue their unexpected run in the competition.
Trevisan was pushed to tears at times from the tension, especially after Juvan double-faulted on set point in the tiebreak to hand her the lead, and the Italian went on to convert on her 4th match point to take the first rubber.
“I had to be happy because I won the set, but I was crying,” she said. “Too many emotions to manage. But the heart and head were there, so I’m very happy.”
Paolini went up a 2-0 lead with an early break in the 1st set, while Zidansek, ranked 100, broke straight back before the Italian established a 3-1 lead and rode out the opener.
Zidansek started the second with an early break in the first game, but Paolini pulled back to draw level at 1-1, before the Slovenian earned a second to go up 2-1, and she served out to level with a hold to 15 in the 10th game.
Paolini went down an early break in the decider, but she won 6 of the last 7 games with 2 breaks to seal the deal, Zidansek’s serve betraying her when the Slovenian doubled-faulted on break point to hand Italy a 5-3 lead, allowing Paolini to serve out the rubber, and clinch the tie.
“I’m really happy and really proud of my team, it was a really tough match today, a little bit of a rollercoaster,” said Paolini later. “I’m so happy for my country, my team and everybody who is cheering for us and working for us to make the week better.”
Both Trevisan and Paolini remain undefeated in their 3 singles matches this week.
“We are disappointed because we wanted to win,” Zidansek said afterwards. “I think that we all felt, like, we could, but at the same time, we’re proud, so it’s kind of bittersweet because we gave it our all.
“We had an amazing week here. As a team, we had fun. These are the memories that we’re going to keep. I think when we draw the line, it was a really, really good week.”
Paolini said regardless of whether Italy would face Canada or the Czech Republic in the final, who were due to play later on Saturday in the second semi-final, it would be a difficult clash.
“We’ll try to do our best, it’s gonna be tough for sure, Canada and the Czech Republic are really strong teams,” she added. “We’ll go on court and give 100 per cent and we’ll see what happens.”
Garbin added: “I cannot ask for more, I am more than happy for them and more than proud, I’m a lucky captain.”
As it happened, it proved to be Canada who came through the second semi, although Czechia’s Barbora Krejcikova, the World number 10, comfortably beat Canadian 18-year old Marina Stakusic, 6-2 6-1, to get off the mark, but Fernandez, ranked 20th in the world, then fended off a come-back from the World No 8 Vondrousova to win, 6-2 2-6 6-3.
The left-handed Vondrousova had won her last 11 Billie Jean King Cup singles matches in straight sets, but Fernandez raced out to a 4-0 lead with a double break, and although the Czech pulled one break back in the 5th game, the Canadian closed out the first set with a 3rd break in the 8th game.
Vondrousova broke twice to win the second set, but Fernandez rallied from an early break down by breaking twice in the 2nd and 4th games to win the third, scoring her first Top 10 win since the 2021 US Open, when she beat 3 Top 5 players en route to the final.
For the second time in as many days, Czechia had to turn to Krejcikova & Siniakova to rescue the tie, with the pair having sealed the deciding doubles in their tight win over the USA on Friday to top Group A and clinch a place in the semi-final.
The Canadian pair of Fernandez & Dabrowski, however, kept their composure, completing a hard-fought victory in a second set tiebreak to make history.
“It’s been a great day for us, for Team Canada,” 2021 US Open runner-up Fernandez said. “Gaby was always there to attack and take it to them. I’m just happy I have a great partner out there who can show me how to do it.”
After Krejcikova’s emphatic dispatch of Stakusic, Fernandez orchestrated an extraordinary fight-back, getting right back on the indoor hard court in Seville after her memorable win over Vondrousova to help Dabrowski upset the favourites and 7-times major doubles champions, Krejcikova & Siniakova, 7-5 7-6(3).
Both teams went on serve with no break points until 5-5 when the Canadians earned the first break after Siniakova double-faulted on deciding point, and Dabrowski held serve to love to seal the opener.
They traded breaks in the second, and it went on serve en route the breaker in which Fernandez hit a backhand winner down the line to earn the first mini-break at 3-2.
The Canadian team held on their serve and sealed the win with a second mini-break.
Czechia, who have won 6 of the past 11 editions of the BJK Cup, had won all 7 previous meetings with Canada, who were competing in their second BJK semi-final and first since 1988.
“I’m just ecstatic. Extremely proud of our team spirit, team effort,” Fernandez said. “I think today was one of our toughest ties, because we are playing against one of the best players in the world individually and the best team in the world of Billie Jean King Cup.
“We were just super excited, motivated, and we wanted to put on a show. Like I said, I’m extremely proud of our team, of our team spirit, and I can’t wait for tomorrow’s final.”
Over the course of 60 years, players ranging from 12-year-old Denise Panagopoulou of Greece and Bermuda’s Gill Butterfield, who took to the court aged 52, have competed in this competition, previously known as the Federation Cup and Fed Cup.
Twelve different nations have won the event, and there is still a chance there could be a new winner on the trophy on Sunday.
Arantxa Sanchez Vicario is the Billie Jean King Cup’s most prolific player of all time, with a record 100 matches played, scoring 72 wins, but King herself is the most decorated, amassing 10 titles as a player and team USA captain.
Among all the jubilant victories and crushing losses, there have been poignant, memorable moments for some of the sport’s greatest champions too.
In 1986, 59-time major champion Martina Navratilova famously returned to Czechoslovakia for the first time since she defected 11 years before.
She wiped away tears as her birth country’s national anthem played, and she prepared to represent her adopted home the USA, winning both her singles and doubles matches to help the Americans defeat Czechoslovakia, 3-0.
Three years later her long-time teammate, friend and fellow legendary player Chris Evert helped the USA win the Cup in the final match of her entire career in what was her 8th Billie Jean King Cup title, to add to her 18 major singles titles.
More recently, in 2020, the event was renamed in King’s honour and, two years later, the competition made history in achieving equal prize money with the Davis Cup for the first time, thanks to title sponsor Gainbridge.
“One of the questions I ask companies now is do you spend as much on women’s sports as men’s sports?” King says. “Most of the time it gets very quiet and they say, ‘you know what, I’ve never thought about it’.
“But Gainbridge has thought about. And they do what they say. So that’s the reason our players get the same amount of prize money as the Davis Cup players. It’s sending a message that we’re all in this world together. I think that’s what’s really important.”
Italy and Canada will have this year’s honour to contest the famous trophy with the record purse.
Italy defeated Slovenia 2-0
- Martina Trevisan (ITA) d. Kaja Juvan (SLO) 7-6(6) 6-3
- Jasmine Paolini (ITA) d. Tamara Zidansek (SLO) 6-2 4-6 6-3
- Elisabetta Cocciaretto/Martina Trevisan (ITA) v Kaja Juvan/Tamara Zidansek (SLO) not played
Canada defeated Czechia 2-1
- Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) d. Marina Stakusic (CAN) 6-2 6-1
- Leylah Fernandez (CAN) d. Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) 6-2 2-6 6-3
- Gabriela Dabrowski/Leylah Fernandez (CAN) d. Barbora Krejcikova/Katerina Siniakova (CZE) 7-5 7-6 (3)
1500 CET, Centre Court: Canada v Italy
The players representing each team will be announced one hour prior to the start of each tie.