KIEV, UKRAINE: What a season Canada is having in tennis’ team competitions. Already into the semifinals of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas, the women booked a spot in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II next year after defeating Ukraine in the fifth rubber of their play-off tie, on Sunday.
When new pairing Eugenie Bouchard and Sharon Fichman coasted past Elena Svitolina and Lesia Tsurenko, another maiden partnership, 64 63, it also marked Canada’s first Fed Cup victory in Europe in 18 years.
“It has been a year of firsts,” said Fichman. “We’re very excited. We mesh so well. And when the boys do well we’re so excited and happy, but then at the same time, we want to be there, too.”
While team Canada celebrated with a bobbing, on-court huddle when the affair ended, there was despair for Ukraine, which fell below World Group II for the first time since 2007, an unwanted first.
The woe was especially great for Tsurenko, the Ukrainian No. 1 who lost all three of her encounters over the weekend at the tiny, rustic Sport Club Meridian in Kiev. “I was fighting with my opponent and even more with myself,” said Tsurenko.
That Ukrainian captain Igor Dernovskyi chose Svitolina and Tsurenko for the doubles, instead of the originally scheduled duo of Yuliya Beygelzimer and Kateryna Kozlova, wasn’t a surprise.
Svitolina had momentum after beating Fichman in straight sets to force the doubles decider, and here was the hard-hitting Tsurenko’s chance for redemption. Further, 19-year-old Kozlova had never played a Fed Cup match and Beygelzimer’s last meaningful win in the competition came in 2004.
Tsurenko, however, continued to look out of sorts, the shakiest of all four players and the only one not to have contested a doubles match in 2013.
With Canada serving for the opening set at 5-4 - the lone tense moment for the pair - Tsurenko committed two unforced errors, and her weak return later gave Fichman an easy put away.
Even if Bouchard claimed the Wimbledon junior doubles crown last year to go along with her singles title, Fichman possessed the most doubles experience of the quartet – and it certainly showed. Recovered from her 64 76(4) reverse to Svitolina on the indoor red clay, she ran the show.
“She just took control,” said Canadian captain Sylvain Bruneau. “She was everywhere. Great energy. She has the potential to be such a great Fed Cup player. She’s very feisty, she’s a proud Canadian, and she’s a dream for Canadians to have on the team because that’s the kind of players we want to have.”
Bouchard was more than an able substitute for Gabriela Dabrowski as Bruneau mirrored Dernovskyi and made a somewhat expected switch. Bouchard began the day by dispatching Tsurenko 64 75. She rolled her right ankle Saturday, but treatment coupled with an ankle brace meant she moved well.
“We waited until this morning to make a decision,” Bouchard said. “I was happy that when I got up it was less swollen than yesterday. I hit this morning, still testing it out, and was very pleased it felt strong and not that painful.”
Bruneau had high praise for Bouchard, who almost injured another ankle in comedic fashion – she slipped on a step after offering up a loud, “Yeah,” as Bruneau was being interviewed. “It shows a lot of heart to be injured like this and go on the court and battle the way she did for her country,” Bruneau said. “I respect it very much.”
Although Tsurenko didn’t hit 16 double faults or make 91 unforced errors, the unpleasant numbers she tallied on Saturday, her respective count of seven and 52 was merely marginally better. Tsurenko also double faulted twice serving at 4-5 in the first and failed to serve out the second.
“Losing yesterday being the No. 1 I think she definitely felt pressure,” Bouchard said. “I was able to feel that on the court.”
Svitolina, a former French Open junior champion, had no such anxiety against Fichman. Unlike Tsurenko on Saturday, Svitolina hit through Fichman, and if the 18-year-old had taken her opportunities on the Fichman serve in the second set, the score would have been more commanding.
As it turned out, Svitolina needed to rally, taking five of the final six games. Ultimately her fine weekend’s work in singles led to nothing for Ukraine. For Canada, meanwhile, these are indeed exhilarating times.
Sharon Fichman (CAN) - 21/04/2013
Captain Sylvain Bruneau (CAN) - 21/04/2013
Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) - 21/04/2013
Elina Svitolina (UKR) - 21/04/2013
Lesia Tsurenko (UKR) - 21/04/2013