Eugenie Bouchard wasn’t thrilled with her play, but she was more than happy with the end result as she helped move Canadian women’s tennis to new heights.
The Montreal native won both her singles matches in a playoff tie with Slovakia, including the clinching match on Sunday, as Canada advanced to the 2015 Fed Cup World Group.
Bouchard, at No. 18 in the WTA singles rankings, beat Jana Cepelova 7-6 (6), 6-3 in front of a spirited home crowd on the campus of Laval University. The win gave Canada a 3-0 lead in the best-of-five tie, and moved the Canadians into the elite World Group for the first time.
“I wasn’t happy with my level of play in both of my matches, but I am proud that I managed to win them both,” said Bouchard, 20. “It was a difficult adjustment for me to switch to hard courts from clay, but sure both victories feel great.
“It feels great to know that we’ve made history here. I played a lot of matches for Canada in the Fed Cup, and I won most of them, so I am proud that I kind of lead this team to the World Group.”
On Saturday, Bouchard beat No. 137 Kristina Kucova 7-6 (0), 2-6, 6-1 in a close match, to give Canada a 2-0 advantage, after teammate Aleksandra Wozniak of Blainville, Que., defeated Cepelova 4-6, 7-5, 7-5.
Canada will now join the eight best teams on the planet in the World Group. A June 4 draw will determine Canada’s next opponent, and whether that tie will be held at home or on the road in 2015.
“It’s a huge accomplishment in my opinion,” team captain Sylvain Bruneau said. “We’ve never been there. It all started with last year’s win over Columbia, then we beat Ukraine, a team that was ranked well ahead of us, then Serbia, and now Slovakia.”
Joining Bouchard and Wozniak (ranked No. 157) on the Canadian team were Toronto’s Sharon Fichman (No. 89) and Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski (No. 199)
Fichman and Dabrowski lost to Slovakia Janette Husarova and Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 4-6, 7-5, (9-11) in a doubles match later Sunday.
After each team took a set, and with the 10-point tiebreak tied 9-9, Fichman missed her final two shots to hand Slovakia the doubles victory.
Because Canada had already defeated Slovakia in the tie, the match was simply a formality.
Bruneau said playing in the World Group will test Canada’s depth.
“We have to keep improving,” he said. “Eugenie has to play at the level she is capable of, Aleksandra Wozniak needs to stay healthy, and Sharon Fichman — who is still young at 23 — can play both singles and doubles for us. We simply need depth, because there are no weak teams in the World Group, and many of the teams that play to qualify for the World Group have players ranked in the top 20.”
Bouchard’s win Sunday, particularly her strong second set, was crucial for Canada because she was struggling on Saturday and was very unhappy with her level of play.
“I have to play much better, have to find consistency in my game,” said Bouchard after her Saturday’s win over Kucova.
She struggled with that rhythm again on Sunday in a very close first set. Cepelova took a 5-3 lead, but just like during her match against Wozniak, she couldn’t finish off points and lost a first set tiebreaker.
Bouchard jumped to a quick 5-0 lead in the second set. When it looked like the last points would be just a formality, Cepelova put up a fight winning three games in a row and pushing Bouchard to make unforced errors.
Serving for the match, Bouchard settled down and won last four out of six points to seal the victory.
“It was a very good match“’ said Cepelova. “Just like yesterday I had my chances in the first set and couldn’t close, but Eugenie was playing very well in those moments putting a lot of pressure on me.”
“We are very said as a team because we are not going to play in the World Group” added Cepelova. “It was very tough playing without our top three players (Dominika Cibulkova, Daniela Hantuchova and Magdalena Rybarikova) but Canada definitely deserved to win this tie. I think they are going to do very well in the World Group.”