It’s been two decades since the Canada’s national women’s team played at the elite level of world tennis, and their return appears imminent.
The last time Canada played Serbia at the Fed Cup, in 2011, the Europeans captured a hard-fought tie 3-2.
But this time the teams are meeting on Canadian turf, and if Serbia is missing its two best players – top-15 world ranking stalwarts Jelena Jankovic (8th) and Ana Ivanovic (12th) – Canada most definitely has theirs.
As a result, they are taking a 2-0 lead into the second and final day of the tie.
Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., is among the fastest-rising start in the game, and in the seventh Fed Cup tie of her career, has taken over as the national squad’s inspirational leader.
Sporting a Canadian flag stencil on her right cheek, Bouchard didn’t disappoint a packed room.
The 19-year-old Bouchard is ranked 19th in the world, whereas Saturday’s opponent Jovana Jaksic is ranked 149th – the gulf in class was apparent from the off.
Bouchard, the Australian Open semi-finalist, won the first set 6-1, and barely broke a sweat in the second, winning 6-0.
Total duration of the match: 50 minutes.
“I’m happy with the way I played, for sure, it’s my first match since the Australian so I’m happy to go in playing aggressive, I was able to keep the momentum even after winning the first set 6-1,” she said afterward.
Jaksic won only 23 points, and hit just six winners; the 20-year-old Serb had a single break point in the match, which she lost.
The winner of this weekend’s tie will advance to a World Group playoff game and a chance to join the highest level of the Fed Cup competition – something Canada last did in 1994, when the competition was played under a different format.
Thus, the expected capacity crowd in the the makeshift 4,000-seat tournament court at Centre Claude-Robillard can hope to witness a novel sight when Bouchard takes on Vesna Dolonc in her second singles match of the tie on Sunday.
That match goes at 1 p.m., should Bouchard win (she won their only previous meeting 6-3, 6-1 in Cincinnati last year) it will seal a commanding victory for the Canadian women.
“(Being up 2-0) is what we wanted to accomplish today, and we did it . . . but the job’s not done,” Bouchard said.
Bouchard conceded that she is a more confident player since her run in Melbourne “When I’m on the court I can be a little bit calmer, because I know that even if it’s not going well I should be able to fight and get through the bad moments,” she said. “Playing big matches, playing against the top players, I think I improve in every match. I think I’m playing better than I did a month ago, that’s always been the plan: a month from now I want to be a better player than I am now. It’s a step in the process.”
In Saturday’s first match, Aleksandra Wozniak of Blainville, Que., chalked up the 39th Fed Cup win of her career (improving on her national record for wins in the competition), outlasting Dolonc in three sets.
Wozniak, who has been ranked as high as 21st in the world, triumphed despite facing a 1-5 deficit in the first set – Wozniak opened the match with a double-fault, and fought her game from there – she would roar back to take it 7-5.
“A lot of my shots were going long, our captain (Sylvain Bruneau) just told me to just keep moving forward . . . that my game would come around,” said Wozniak, whose career has been derailed by injuries over the past 18 months.
Dolonc and Wozniak have played before – a hard-fought match at the U.S. Open last summer – and the Serb changed her tactics ahead of the second set.
When the 117th-rankedDolonc jumped out to a 3-0 lead, Wozniak could do no better than to claw back to within a break, she lost the set 2-6.
The third was evenly-matched, but with Wozniak up 3-2, opportunity came knocking.
Dolonc was serving at 30-40, Wozniak hammered a good, deep backhand, and Dolonc’s forehand went into the net – she looked away in disgust.
Though Dolonc would claw the break back and make it 5-4, Wozniak was able to grind out a match point against her opponent’s serve.
After a brief rally, Wozniak sent a soft forehand sailing into Dolonc’s forehand side, but her return drifted long.
Game, set and match to Canada.
“I was so happy, I love playing for my country,” said Wozniak. “It’s amazing to play at home, it gives you so much energy and helps you surpass yourself in the tough moments.”