Against host Spain in the first singles match of the Billie Jean King Cup Finals in Seville, captain Heidi El Tabakh took a risk by starting a young player.
The risk paid off on Wednesday as unheralded rookie Marina Stakusic defeated Rebeka Masarova 6-3, 6-1, securing the biggest win of her short career.
“I just tried to have great energy from the beginning and just show that I belong here,” Stakusic stated during a court interview. “I’m very happy with my performance.”
In the other singles match, Laval, Quebec’s Leylah Fernandez defeated 50th-ranked Sara Sorribes Tormo 7-6 (8), 7-6 (7) to seal the victory for Canada.
In a back-and-forth match, it took two hours and fifty-three minutes for world No. 35 Fernandez to triumph. After trailing 5-2 in the second set, the Canadian battled back and won on her first match point in the tiebreak after saving two set points.
After a best-of-three match, Canada emerged victorious once more. In a 56-minute doubles match, Gabriela Dabrowski of Ottawa and Eugenie Bouchard of Montreal defeated Masarova and Sorribes Tormo 6-3, 7-5.
Dabrowski and Bouchard blasted 15 wins to their opponents’ 8 and scored on six of seven break points.
After her exhausting match, Fernandez was substituted out for Dabrowski, who was initially supposed to be her partner. Changes to the doubles lineup are permitted following the conclusion of the singles matches.
The Mississauga, Ontario, native Stakusic, 18, made the most of her first-ever starting assignment in the women’s team tennis competition.
Against her opponent, who was ranked 65th, the world No. 258 was in complete control and displayed no signs of jitters on one of the biggest venues in the sport. Masarova was left feeling disappointed and in quest of clarification after the performance at Estadio la Cartuja subdued the partisan audience.
Stakusic stated, “I think my composure was really important for me today,” at a post-event media conference. “I’m glad I was able to stay calm during the match.”
By selecting Stakusic over the more seasoned Bouchard and Rebecca Marino, El Tabakh defied convention. But in the first game, Stakusic displayed the composure of an experienced player, holding at love and applying constant pressure to the Spaniard with powerful ground strokes and a smart touch at the net.
With consecutive service breaks to start the second set, the Canadian resisted allowing Masarova to get any momentum. The Spaniard had a triple-break point down 1-4, but Stakusic battled back to take the hold and finished the match in a clean 69 minutes.
This season, Stakusic—who has triumphed in three ITF events at the lower levels—called it her greatest victory to date.
From the Canadian bench, Vancouver’s world No. 176 Marino and No. 273 Bouchard supported their colleagues. The team was missing 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., who has been nursing a back injury.
Canada was scheduled to continue Group C round-robin play Thursday against Poland. Spain and Poland were scheduled to play Friday.
Winners from each of the four three-team groups will advance to the semifinals. The championship game goes Sunday.