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Monday Digest: Canada ready to go at Billie Jean King Cup

Nov 01, 2021
written by: Tennis Canada
written by: Tennis Canada

Flashback for a moment to 2019, when Canada’s Davis Cup team shocked the world and generated excitement by reaching the final at the inaugural revamped Davis Cup Finals.

This week, it could be the women’s turn.

The first ever Billie Jean King Cup Finals take place this week and Team Canada presented by Sobeys is ready to follow in their male counterparts’ footsteps and put on a show with the eyes of the world on them.

Here’s what you need to know:

What to watch: Going for Glory at the Billie Jean King Cup

There are a few firsts this week at the major women’s team competition.

Firstly, it is the first edition of the tournament under its new name, honouring the trailblazing women’s star Billie Jean King.

Second, it is the first year under the new format, following the change the men made to the Davis Cup in 2019. Rather than ties being played throughout the year, the top 12 teams are all descending on Prague for a week-long event that will decide which country reigns supreme in 2021.

Canada is among the 12 teams competing in the Czech capital, but will have their hands full in a very challenging group. The Canadians opened the tournament against the defending champions France and can book their place with a win/will have a win-or-go home match on Tuesday against the powerhouse Russian team.

One of the challenges for Canada is they are missing their top two singles players. After long seasons on the tour, both Bianca Andreescu and Leylah Fernandez withdrew from the event. Instead, Team Canada presented by Sobeys is led by Rebecca Marino, Francoise Abanda, Carol Zhao and Gabriela Dabrowski.

Most of the teams at the Billie Jean Cup Finals are missing their top stars. Despite 13 women in Top 20 being eligible to play, only four are in Prague, only one of whom, Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic, is in the Top 10.

Countries are divided into four groups of three and start with a round robin. The winners of each group advance to the semi-finals, which will be played on Friday. The final will take place on Saturday.

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There are two small events on the WTA tour this week in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Midland, Michigan. Canada’s Katherine Sebov is in qualifying in Midland.

Last chance in Paris

Overshadowed by the Billie Jean King Cup this week is the final Masters 1000 event of the season for the men at the Rolex Paris Masters.

A full field is in the French capital, a bit of a rarity at the late-season Masters event, including the return of world No. 1 Novak Djokovic who is competing in his first event since the US Open. Eight of the Top 10 will be competing at the event.

The big focus in Paris is, as is often the case, less on who will lift the trophy, but more on who will lock up their spot at the ATP Finals. There are two spots still available and six men who could occupy them by week’s end, including Canada’s Félix Auger-Aliassime.

Photo : atptour.com

Auger-Aliassime is going to need a big performance, and some help, if he hopes to move into a qualifying spot in Paris. He is currently 595 points behind Jannik Sinner for the eighth and final spot, but really it is 640 given that Sinner has a bye, which means the Canadian has to win the title to pass the Italian and get into a qualifying spot this week.

That will be tough as Auger-Aliassime could meet Andy Murray in the second round, Hubert Hurkacz, a fellow Turin chaser, in the third and Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarters.

In Case You Missed It: Kontaveit’s late charge pays off, Sinner reaches Top 10

Coming out of the US Open, Anett Konteveit was nowhere near the conversation for players who could qualify for the WTA Finals.

But the Estonian had other ideas, putting on a run for the ages to clinch the final spot in Guadalajara, capping it off with a title run this week in Transylvania.

Coming into her final event, only a title would be enough for Kontaveit to sneak past Ons Jabeur and claim the final spot at the Finals. But that’s exactly what she did, picking up her third title in her last five events, a streak where she went 19-1 with one walkover given, by blowing away the field in Romania.

She did not drop a set on her way to the title, beating home-favourite Simona Halep in the final with the loss of just five games.

Kontaveit completes the field in Guadalajara, joining the Spaniards Garbine Muguruza and Paula Badosa who both clinched their spots earlier in the week.

Over on the men’s side, the race to Turin is heating up with one less spot available after Matteo Berrettini clinched his despite losing a quarter-final epic to Carlos Alcaraz in Vienna.

Alexander Zverev won that title, putting an end to Frances Tiafoe’s giant-killer run in the final. The American had beaten Tsitsipas, Diego Schwartzman, and Sinner all in a row after getting into the main draw as a qualifier.

Despite his semi-final loss, Sinner’s rapid rise to the top reached a new milestone as he did enough to enter the Top 10 in the rankings for the first time in his career at age 20. He also moved into the eighth and final qualifying spot for Turin.

In St. Petersburg, Denis Shapovalov’s faint hopes of qualifying for the ATP Finals were extinguished in a straight-sets loss to Jan-Lennard Struff in the quarter-finals. He is skipping Paris and will focus on his title defence in Stockholm next week.

Marin Cilic went on to win that title. Donna Vekic picked up the other trophy on the women’s side with a win at the Courmayeur Ladies Open, her first title in four years.

Under the Radar: Draxl Doubles Up

For the second week in a row, Canada’s Liam Draxl found himself in a doubles final on the ITF tour and this week got his hands on the big trophy, defeating the top seeds with partner John McNally to win the doubles title in Tallahassee.  

It’s his second career doubles title, having won the ATP Challenger event in Lexington in July.

This week, the Charlottesville Challenger is full of Canadian content, with Vasek Pospisil, Peter Polansky and Brayden Schnur all competing. The event was last played in 2019, when Pospisil beat Schnur in the final.

Alexis Galarneau continues his South American tour with a Challenger event Guayaquil, Ecuador.

As usual, there is a large number of Canadians competing on the ITF men’s and women’s tours this week.

You can follow the Canadians in action every week here.