Billie Jean King Cup day one wrap: Day 1 – Canada stuns France as Belgium wins opening tie
CANADA has stunned reigning champions France on the opening day of the Billie Jean King Cup despite being heavily understrength for the clash. The North American nation was without Bianca Andreescu or Leylah Fernandez, but just found a way to topple the world number ones who chose not to use second ranked player Caroline Garcia. Instead, it was up to Fiona Ferro, Alize Cornet and Clara Burel to lead the resistance, but the world number 10s had other ideas.
It all looked to be going to plan early for France, with Cornet taking the first set against world number 353 Francoise Abanda, and even had a break in the second set. But Abanda fought back to break back twice and level the scores at a set apiece, before following through with a similarly hard-fought third set win to give Canada the most unlikely of leads. The match lasted two hours and 16 minutes, with Abanda breaking four times to three, and had five less unforced errors (49-54), as well as being more consistent off the backhand side for 10 winners to six during the 4-6 6-4 6-4 victory.
It was then up to Cornet to level the tie against Rebecca Marino, with the top ranked Frenchwoman in the match able to do just that, but it was far from easy, getting through 6-4 7-6 in and hour and 46 minutes. She won 67 and 71 per cent of her first and second serve points respectively off a 73 per cent clip, as Marino struggled with just a 51 per cent efficiency. The Canadian had twice as many winners (24-12), but also far more unforced errors (56-34), as Cornet played consistent tennis to get the win and level the tie.
Jumping into the doubles, Cornet was joined by Burel up against Marino and specialist Gabriela Dabrowski. This was always going to be danger for the world number ones, with the fifth ranked Dabrowski far and away the best doubles player on the court, teaming up with the 177th ranked Marino, compared to Cornet and Burel who are ranked just inside the Top 300. Despite making a fist of it, the French could not grab a nail-biting second set tiebreaker, with Canada winning 6-3 7-6, with the second set going to 8-6 in the tiebreaker. The Canadians hit 23 winners to 15 and had four less unforced errors (25-29) to enjoy the biggest of upsets to kick off the tournament.
CANADA (2) DEFEATED FRANCE (1)
Francoise Abanda (CAN) defeated Fiona Ferro (FRA) 4-6 6-4 6-4
Alize Cornet (FRA) defeated Rebecca Marino (CAN) 6-4 7-6
G. Dabrowski/R. Marino (CAN) defeated C. Burel/A. Cornet (FRA) 6-3 7-6
Meanwhile in Group B, the lowest ranked nation at the tournament in Belgium took down the fifth ranked Belarus, though it ended up being the predictable result. Belgium was at full-strength lead by Elise Mertens, whilst their opponents were missing their two star talents in Aryna Sabalenka and Victoria Azarenka. Mertens – who is perfect for the format ranked 20th in singles and second in the world for doubles – was joined by Greet Minnen for the singles up against Aliaksandra Sasnovich and late inclusion Iryna Shymanovich.
Minnen had no issues taking care of Shymanovich in a straight sets victory, with the Top 70 player cruising to a 6-2 6-2 win in the opening match of the tie. The contest went on for 68 minutes with Minnen winning 86 per cent of her first serve points compared to Shymanovich’s 47 per cent, and breaking four times without being broken herself. The Belgian also hit two more winners (15-13) and six less unforced errors (17-23) to hand her side an early 1-0 lead in the tie.
Mertens was predicted to knock off Sasnovich, but it was always going to be tough given the Belarusian’s recent form, and the match resembled that, being a three-set two-hour and seven-minute contest. After taking the first set comfortably where she hit six less unforced errors (5-11) and broke three times to one, Mertens found herself on the back foot in the second set, with Sasnovich turning up the head. The Belarusian smashed home 19 winners – for only 10 unforced errors – as well as winning 71 and 63 per cent of her first and second sets to take the win. Mertens got back on top in the second set as Sasnovich again became loose with her shots, hitting 18 unforced errors to only seven winners, as Mertens’ 12 and 10 was a little better, helping her secure the 6-2 4-6 6-2 victory.
With the tie all wrapped up, Belgium still opted for Mertens in the doubles, paired up with Kirsten Flipkens against Sasnovich – a Top 100 doubles player in her own right – and Vera Lapko who had been gaining great experience on the doubles circuit. It helped, with the Belarusian’s stunning the highly ranked Belgians, 6-4 6-3. The match lasted just 65 minutes, with Lapko and Sasnovich hitting 21 winners to 11 and having three less unforced errors (11-14), to break three times to zero. They also won 79 and 75 per cent of their first and second serves compared to the Belgian’s uncharacteristic drop off of 66 and 31 per cent.
BELGIUM (2) DEFEATED BELARUS (1)
Greet Minnen (BEL) defeated Iryna Shymanovich (BLR) 6-2 6-2
Elise Mertens (BEL) defeated Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) 6-2 4-6 6-2
V. Lapko/A. Sasnovich (BLR) defeated K. Flipkens/E. Mertens (BEL) 6-4 6-3
Picture credit: Daniel Kopatsch/Paul Zimmer