Canada through to Billie Jean King Cup finals with 3-2 win over Belgium

Some of Canada’s top women’s tennis players made it even sweeter this weekend with a big win against adversity.

After losing his top-ranked player to injury and seeing his team-mate sidelined, the Canadian held on to a 3-2 win over Belgium in a Billie Jean Gold Cup qualifier in Vancouver.

It was Canada’s first win over Belgium in a Women’s Tennis World Cup match in four matches.

“It was a rollercoaster ride,” doubles specialist Gabriela Dabrowski said of the two-day event. “We thought we were down. We weren’t. I Think it’s just to show the toughness of every player on our team. It’s really special.”

Dabrowski and Leylah Fernandez defeated Kirsten Flipkens and Greet Minnen 6-1, 6-2 in the doubles match to secure Canada’s spot in the November final.

Earlier in the day, Fernandez of Laval, Quebec rallied to beat Isaline Wende 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 (Ysaline Bonaventure), Minnen defeated Toronto’s Katherine Sebov 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

Canada comfortably took the first four points in Saturday’s one-hour, four-minute double to take a 1-0 lead without a comeback. The two sides have played against each other many times, and the mother country has always tried to come out on top.

Dabrowski showed why she was No. 7 in the women’s doubles rankings in the world midway through the first set, with a clever backhand over the net to end the back-and-forth stretch and give Canada a 5-1 lead.

It was her third match in two days and Fernandes looked in no way tired as she darted across the pitch to pick up the ball and slam it back to the Belgian with her powerful forehand.

“Playing with (Dabrowski) is always a privilege,” Fernandez said. “She’s a great doubles specialist. She has such a beautiful view of the court and I get to experience it with her. It’s something I want to learn and get better along the way.”

Fernandez — No. 50 in the WTA singles ranking — beat Yanina Vicmeyer 6-0, 6-3 on Friday but ran into trouble early in her singles match with Wende.

The 86th-ranked Belgian beat Vancouver’s Rebecca Marino 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 on Friday to take a 4-1 lead in the first set as Fernandes fought to hold serve and hit four. Faults in the first five games of doubles.

As the game wore on, the 20-year-old Canadian began mixing shots, luring opponents to the net and forcing turnovers. She cut it to 4-3 before Bonaventure took the set.

Players traded points repeatedly in the competitive second, but neither took the lead.

Fernandez was up 6-5 thanks to a Bonaventure shot disallowed. The Canadian crowd cheered when she returned to the court from the switch, and Fernandez responded by breaking Wende in the decider.

The former US Open finalist continued to dominate in the third set to take a 3-0 lead.

Bonaventure took a break point late in the set to make it 5-2, but Fernandez responded with a break of his own to win the match in two hours and 26 minutes.

Wende was emotional after the doubles match and wiped tears from his cheeks while being interviewed by reporters.

“It was very disappointing because I had a feeling that I was very close to bringing points to the team,” she said.

“It’s frustrating. We’ve all done a great job, we’ve had such a good week together, such a great team and a great atmosphere. So it’s frustrating because we really wanted to win this game. I’m very sad.”

In the second singles match of the day, Minning defeated Sebov in three sets.

The game was originally scheduled to be a battle between Marino and Wake Maier, but after battling illness on Friday, the two players were swapped ahead of the game.

Marino was unwell during the game and Canada captain Heidi El Tabah didn’t want to risk her playing on Saturday.

“Rebecca had an extremely tough game. It was physically and mentally draining,” she said. “I think playing Kat, someone fresh, was a good decision.”

Wickmayer sprained his ankle Friday, an injury that made serving painful.

“It’s one thing to lose, it’s another thing to get hurt the next day and not be able to help your team,” Wickmayer said. “So it was a really tough day for me, but I tried my best to be out there and support the team as much as I could. … We all gave it what we got. There was nothing we could do, really. “

Sebov was a late addition to the Canadian team after top-ranked Canadian Bianca Andreescu tore both tendons in her ankle at the Miami Open on March 27.

World No. 27 Andreescu sat courtside in Vancouver, cheering on her teammates.

Seboff, 24, climbed to a career-high No. 136 last week after losing to Swiss powerhouse Belinda Bencic at the Charleston Open on April 5.

Still, she admits, playing in front of a Canadian audience is “overwhelming.”

“I’m used to a quieter environment, and on Court 17, no one is watching,” Sebov said. “So it’s been a little adjustment to stay focused even though there’s a lot going on, a lot of noise and lights flickering. I think it’s just something I need to get used to.”

The Vancouver qualifier is one of nine qualifiers taking place around the world this week, with the winner advancing to the final at a yet-to-be-announced location.

Last year, Canada swept Latvia in qualifying to advance to the final in Glasgow, beating Italy in the final but losing to Switzerland in the group stage. Switzerland went on to win the world title.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, Canadian Press

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