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Canada shoots for 1st-ever Billie Jean King Cup title at finals in Spain

One year after Canada’s men snapped a lengthy tennis drought, the women have an chance to follow suit.

Canada has never so much as reached the final at the Billie Jean King Cup, the international women’s tennis tournament that launched as the Fed Cup in 1963.

But with a strong roster featuring 2021 U.S. Open finalist Leylah Fernandez, reigning U.S. Open women’s doubles champion Gabriela Dabrowski along with some veteran support, that drought could be over by Sunday.

“We totally deserve to be there and we’re competing with the best teams, but I am very, very confident that my girls are going to perform well and give it their all,” team captain Heidi El Tabakh told CBC Sports.

“I believe that we can win Billie Jean King Cup. So that’s definitely our goal. That’s the players’ goal and that’s what we’re hoping for.”

The Billie Jean King Cup will offer a record total of $9.6 million US in prize money, including $2.4 million to the champions, the International Tennis Federation revealed Monday.

The International Tennis Federation stated Monday that this puts the women competing at the Billie Jean Cup on an equivalent prize level as the men at the Davis Cup Finals.

The Canadian men’s team earned the Davis Cup for the first time in 109 years last season, riding a miraculous run that started with them not even in the field for the finals and ended with a trophy celebration in Spain.

Perhaps the location can provide inspiration, as Canada’s women will start competition in Seville with round-robin ties against the host nation on Tuesday and Poland on Wednesday.

El Tabakh said her squad can take inspiration from the men.

“Yeah, absolutely. I think that we definitely can learn a lot and they’ve had an incredible run at Davis. Going to win the Davis [Cup] is huge. So that’s definitely a goal of ours,” she said.

Joining Fernandez and Dabrowski in Spain are Rebecca Marino, Eugenie Bouchard and Marina Stakusic. It’s Bouchard’s first time representing Canada since 2018.

“I just want [the] results to come in quickly,” Fernandez said of her game to The Canadian Press. “But the reality is you’ve got to be patient. You’ve got to go through so many losses, you’ve got to go through some bad moments so that the good ones can taste even sweeter.”

Though it hasn’t been the greatest season for any of the group individually, some have come on strongly lately.

Dabrowski, along with partner Erin Routliffe, collected her third Grand Slam title and first in women’s doubles in September in New York. Fernandez, the highest-ranked singles player at No. 35, snagged her third career WTA title in October in Hong Kong, then followed it up with a run to the semifinals in Jiangxi, China, a week later.

Marino, ranked 138th, competed in the main draw of all four majors this season, while Bouchard is continuing to ramp back up from injury but holds a 13-4 career record in international play. Stakusic, the youngest player on the team at 18, is making her Billie Jean King Cup debut.

“Every player has a lot to bring to the table and this is a team competition so every match counts, every game counts, every set counts. So I know talking to the girls yesterday we’re ready to go there as a team and fight hard for Canada,” El Tabakh said.

The top-ranked opponents Canada will face in the group stage are No. 23 Magda Linette of Poland and No. 51 Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain.

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