Canada's Gabriela Dabrowski, from left to right, Leylah Fernandez, Katherine Sebov and Rebecca Marino celebrate after Dabrowski and Fernandez defeated Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens and Greet Minnen during a Billie Jean King Cup qualifiers doubles match, in Vancouver, on Saturday, April 15, 2023. Canada won three of the five matches to win the qualifying tie and advance to the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup finals. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl DyckTHE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Fernandez and Dabrowski send Canada into the Billie Jean King Cup Finals

Team Canada put on a dominant performance to overcome Team Belgium 3-2 in the Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers on Saturday in Vancouver, British Columbia. For the third time, Canada is set for the Finals in November.

The Canadian team includes Leylah FernandezRebecca MarinoGabriela Dabrowski and Katherine Sebov.

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In the deciding doubles match, Leylah Fernandez and Gabriela Dabrowski beat Belgium’s Greet Minnen and Kirsten Flipkens in two sets of 6-1, 6-2. The pair worked well together from the get-go, taking the first set in just 25 minutes. Thanks to Fernandez’s powerful serve, the pair won 76 per cent of their first serve points and 100 per cent of their second. Dabrowski covered the court well to ensure the Belgians had no opportunities to win a break point in their first set.

The Canadians never gave up the lead and broke their opponent twice. Playing her third match in two days, Fernandez looked anything but tired. Her second ace of the day denied Minnen and Flipkens their chance at a break in the sixth game and helped the pair take the match in straight sets.

Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski, right, Leylah Fernandez, front left, and captain Heidi El Tabakh celebrate after defeating Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens and Greet Minnen during a Billie Jean King Cup qualifiers doubles match, in Vancouver, on Saturday, April 15, 2023. Canada won three of the five matches to win the qualifying tie and advance to the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup finals. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Both Fernandez and Dabrowski are ranked in the Top 50 for doubles. With 13 career titles, Dabrowski is currently No. 7 and Fernandez sits at No. 38.

This was Fernandez’s second win of the day. She had a slow start to her first match but rallied to defeat Belgium’s No. 1 Ysaline Bonaventure and give Canada a 2-1 lead on Saturday morning. World No. 50 Fernandez found herself down 0-4 and two breaks in the first set but pulled off a 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 victory. She needed eight break point changes in her return games before converting her first, but it wasn’t enough to get back in the first set.

In the second, she had winning volleys and had a few drop shots that surprised the Belgian. Fernandez found herself down a break 2-3 but fought back to force a decisive third set thanks to another break of serve in the twelfth game. She carried her momentum into the final frame, jumping out to a 3-0 lead. Adding pressure with her forehand, backhand and serve, Bonaventure started to fade. Fernandez came out on top after converting her fourth match point. In the process, she avenged her loss against Bonaventure earlier this season in the Auckland quarterfinals.

Canada’s Leylah Fernandez celebrates winning a game against Belgium’s Ysaline Bonaventure during the third set of a Billie Jean King Cup qualifiers singles match, in Vancouver, on Saturday, April 15, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Saturday’s second singles showdown saw Belgium’s Greet Minnen down Canadian Katherine Sebov in a back-and-forth battle lasting three sets to tie the teams at 2-2. The Belgian found her momentum early, breaking the 24-year-old Canadian in her first game and quickly took a 5-1 lead. Sebov started to find her footing but the Minnen won 75 per cent of her first serve points in the set. In the second, Sebov changed the story taking the fifth game and a 3-2 lead. She used her powerful serves to her advantage, missing only four in the entire set. In the decider, Sebov broke Minnen in the first game and denied a triple break point. Minnen came back strong, breaking the Canadian three time to take the third set in a back-and-fourth battle.

The match was initially scheduled as a battle between Marino and Belgian veteran Yanina Wickmayer but both players were swapped just before the match after fighting through ailments on Friday.

Canada finished Friday tied 1-1 with Belgium

In her first match of the weekend, Fernandez cruised to a 6-0, 6-3 victory over Yanina Wickmayer to give the home squad an important 1-0 advantage. The Canadian came out strong in the opening set of the first match with an effective serve, impressive movement and a backhand that had her opponent constantly on the defensive. The Belgian couldn’t muster a game against Fernandez’s relentless aggression.

It was more of the same in set two even though Wickmayer ended the Canadian’s string of consecutive games won at seven when she secured her first hold of the match to make it 1-1. Fernandez didn’t let up as she continued to control the rallies. Fernandez wrapped up a dominant performance from start to finish to take the win.

“It means a lot to me. Team Belgium is a super tough team and to get the first win was very important for us to start off the weekend and I’m glad that I was able to perform well and help my team as much as possible,” Fernandez said following the match. 

Earlier in the day Rebecca Marino lost a tough battle to Belgium’s top-ranked player, Bonaventure in three sets of 6-4, 4-6, 4-6. Marino started the match strong, winning four first-serve points to take game one. She looked determined in game two, winning on her eighth break point, but Bonaventure battled to get back on serve after Marino took a 3-0 lead. After double-faulting six times, the Belgian was ultimately no match for the Canadian’s terrific court movement and smashing forehand in the opening set.

Bonaventure shifted the momentum and rallied in the second and third, where it was the Canadian’s turn to double fault six times. Although Marino’s 13th ace of the match gave her an early lead in the final set, she quickly found herself down 1-4. She was broken four times in the last two-thirds of the match.

Team Canada will continue their journey at the Billie Jean King Cup Final in November. They will be joining the other eight winners of the 2023 Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers, one wild card and the two 2022 finalists. The location of the finals is yet to be announced.

Bianca Andreescu was originally announced to the team this year but had to withdraw after tearing two ligaments in her left ankle during the Miami Open in late March. She was replaced on the roster by Katherine Sebov, who was last part of the Billie Jean King Cup team in 2018.

Last year, Canada swept Latvia in a qualifier and advanced to the finals in Glasgow, where they topped Italy before falling to Switzerland in group play. Switzerland went on to win the world title.