In Fed Cup Fables, wtatennis.com will look back at the most memorable ties over the past five years of Fed Cup. Continuing the countdown is injury-stricken Canada’s heroic victory over Ukraine in the 2018 World Group II Play-offs.
HOW THEY GOT THERE: Team Canada was in danger of dropping out of World Group II in 2018, after losing 1-3 to Romania in the first round. They were relegated to the play-offs where they had drawn Ukraine, who had narrowly fallen to Australia.
Things seemed to be looking up as the teams converged in Montreal, Canada for the tie, to be played on indoor hardcourts at IGA Stadium. Canadian No.1 and Montreal native Eugenie Bouchard was back on the squad for the first time since 2015, along with No.2 Francoise Abanda and the doubles team of Gabriela Dabrowski and promising 17-year-old Bianca Andreescu.
“It feels nice [being back on the squad], it’s been a couple of years and I’ve missed it a little bit,” Bouchard told press ahead of the tie. “When I was younger... I kind of used the pressure and fan support in a positive way. Obviously, after a while I felt more pressure as it got tougher, as opposed to seeing it as motivation.
“For me, I want to take this tie in a positive way, and that all these people are here and want the best for me, and try to use that as motivation on the court.”
But without a Top 100 player among them, things would be tough against a veteran Ukraine team led by World No.41 Lesia Tsurenko, along with No.78 Kateryna Bondarenko and doubles specialist Olga Savchuk, set to team up with Bondarenko should it come down to the wire.
WHAT HAPPENED: Before they even played the first point, there was trouble brewing for Canada. Abanda, who was set to open the tie against Tsurenko, took an unfortunate fall during her pre-match warm-up and suffered a black eye, forcing captain Sylvain Bruneau to swap her out for 17-year-old Andreescu.
Andreescu came out swinging against Tsurenko, winning the first set 6-4 and jumping out to a 3-1 lead in the second. But as the match went on, the teenager started struggling with injuries and fatigue, giving Tsurenko a way back in, taking the second set 6-3. Andreescu continued to try to fight through painful left lower leg cramps, but after losing nine games in a row she eventually collapsed in tears, retiring at 4-0 in the third.
“Right now I’m emotionally pretty devastated with what happened because I think I was on a roll,” Andreescu said, fighting back tears. “I was playing my best tennis, I was giving my all on the court and that’s all I could ask from myself. But I will be fine.”
It was now up to Bouchard to give Canada a breath of hope - and a crucial point to keep the tie competitive. And that’s exactly what the Montreal native delivered in front of her home crowd, playing some of her best tennis to claim a hard-fought 6-2, 7-5 victory over Kateryna Bondarenko to leave them level at 1-1 after a roller coaster Day 1.
With two injured singles players on the bench, Captain Bruneau called on doubles specialist Dabrowski to replace Andreescu in the second reverse singles rubber against Bondarenko. But first it was Bouchard again, opening Day 2 against Team Ukraine’s top player Tsurenko.
There was plenty of drama early on as Bouchard and Tsurenko locked into a marathon and competitive two-hour, 39-minute third rubber. Both players were physically struggling and hobbled by the time they got to the third-set tiebreaker, but Bouchard channeled all of the Montreal crowd’s support to claim the win 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(5) and earned Canada their first lead of the weekend.
“It was kind of insane,” Bouchard told the crowd afterwards. “We were both playing and I think I raised my level in the second set. At the end it was just a physical battle and a mental battle. I saw her suffering. I was suffering.
“We were all in pain. It was just who could hold it together, stay in there longer and had the nerves of steel when it counted. I mean, it was 5-all in the third set tiebreaker.”
Ranked No.364 in singles and not having played a WTA-level main draw singles match all season, Dabrowski took the court against Bondarenko for the fourth rubber. She held her own against the Ukranian, rushing ahead to a set lead in just 28 minutes, but she couldn’t keep up that level. Bondarenko came roaring back, taking the win 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 to send them into a deciding doubles tie.
Dabrowski had to put that loss behind her quickly, as she had to go right back out on court with Andreescu, who was back in commission to make up the first-time doubles team. Dabrowski’s veteran leadership was on full display as she led the duo through the ups and downs against Savchuk and Bondarenko. The Canadians dropped the second set but rallied in the third, outlasting their opponents to win 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 and claim a 3-2 win to seal the tie.
WHAT IT MEANT: Team Canada’s dramatic weekend sealed the victory in the World Group II play-offs, allowing them to remain in the group while Ukraine dropped down to the Europe/Africa Zone.
“It’s horrendous, it’s terrible,” Savchuk said of being relegated to zonal groups. “It was obviously very difficult. It shows by the matches every day. You could see from both sides; we fight, they fight. It’s sad we lost and great for Canada.”
The crowd hailed Bouchard’s heroic performance, winning both of her singles ties to keep Canada alive in the tie. A few months later, it would win her the Fed Cup Heart Award, a fan-voted award presented by the ITF who “represented their country with distinction, shown exceptional courage on court and demonstrated outstanding commitment to their team.”
After witnessing her courageous performances in Fed Cup, Team Canada’s Bruneau would go on to coach Andreescu full-time.The pair’s partnership paid off a year later, when the Canadian teenager shot to the top of the tennis world winning the US Open, Indian Wells and Toronto in the same year.
“It was an amazing weekend,” Captain Bruneau told press in Montreal. “It started tough and we knew we had adversity with Ukraine. We knew a tough, tough country to face and we had a few setbacks even before the first match.”