October 23, 2021

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MONTREAL – Fed Cup draws – with the first name selected basically setting the entire weekend’s lineup – are essentially a two-minute affair at most.

So the ceremonies themselves are generally long on speeches.

When the Canadian Fed Cup team plays at home, it usually means a guest appearance by Sauveur Menella, the French, Montreal-based vice-president of BNP Paribas Canada.

BNP Paribas, of course, is the title sponsor for Fed Cup and Davis Cup.

The name of Françoise Abanda was drawn first – as she joked to her captain, Sylvain Bruneau, she always ends up going first.

With Abanda the No. 2 player on the Canadian team behind Genie Bouchard, that will mean she leads off Saturday at 1 p.m. EDT against Ukraine’s No. 1, Lesia Tsurenko.

Following that will be Bouchard against Ukraine’s No. 2, Kateryna Bondarenko.

For the reverse singles Sunday, Bouchard will start against Tsurenko, followed by Abanda vs. Bondarenko if the outcome is not decided.

The rankings disparity is fairly large.

Tsurenko is ranked No. 41, Bondarenko No. 78.

Bouchard stands at No. 117 (although obviously her career high is higher than that of anyone else on the two teams). Abanda is currently ranked No. 127.

So on paper, it’s a bit of a mismatch even if three of the best Ukrainians are not here. World No. 4 Elina Svitolina and Marta Kostyuk, the rising 15-year-old star, are absent. Also not here is Kateryna Kozlova, ranked No. 68. But she appears to be injured.

Svitolina also didn’t play in early February, when Ukraine was defeated by Australia Down Under. In that tie, Kostyuk upset top-25 player Daria Gavrilova on the first day.

Ukraine’s captain, Mikhail Filima, joked that even if he only had three players this weekend (excellent doubles player Olga Savchuk is the third), it was a lot better than having two.

He talked about schedules, and priorities, and the like. But there’s obviously seems to be something amiss with the federation, because a lot of the top players are in action this week. The ties are counting down and they need to get their Fed Cup criteria met to ensure their eligibility for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Svitolina is due to play in Stuttgart, indoors on the red clay, next week. 

Kostyuk is in the Stuttgart qualifying, and the Kichenok twins, Nadiia and Lyudmyla, are both in the doubles draw.

Handshakes, photos and niceties

After the draw, the players gathered for the handshakes and photo opportunities.

More on that here, as Canada averted a massive diplomatic crisis when Wimbledon finalist Genie Bouchard congenially shook Bondarenko’s hand.

And then came a question-and-answer period with the media, mostly Canadian and mostly French-speaking.

Most of the questions were to Bouchard, who was asked about her confidence level and how she hoped to turn around a tough season. One, about whether she accepted the “blame” for her struggles, was very poorly-worded and came out sounding rather aggressive.

Somewhere in the middle, a journalist Bouchard assumed was from Ukraine (because of his accent) asked a long-winded question about her playing doubles with Grand Slam champions (Sloane Stephens and Jelena Ostapenko) and about whether she and teammate Gabriela Dabrowski hoped them might some day have an all-Canadian team in a Slam doubles final and …. well, even Bouchard wasn’t quite sure what, exactly he was asking.

Just when things were going well …

And then, it went off the rails a bit.

A collective intake of breath, a few quiet laughs, some frozen smiles on the dais. And then Bouchard wouldn’t let it go.

Mistaken identity

The irony is that the journalist Bouchard was thanking for his adoring deference to royalty wasn’t even from Ukraine. According to TVA, his name is Andras Ruszanov. He’s a Hungarian (not Ukrainian) native, a freelancer who has lived in Montreal for several years.

Why she would deliberately put a whole room full of people on her back, 24 hours before she can use all the support she can get to try to pull off two victories against quality opponents, is unknown.

Head-to-heads

Bouchard and Tsurenko have met once, at Indian Wells in 2015.

Bouchard was then ranked No. 6; Tsurenko was a qualifier. Tsurenko took it 6-4 in the third, in a dramatic matchup that had Bouchard ailing with an ab problem, and Tsurenko with an ankle issue. It was a pretty tough day for the Canadian, who was then fresh off the breakthrough 2014 season during which she was a Grand Slam finalist and in the early phase of her ill-fated coaching association with Sam Sumyk.

Between the two of them, Bouchard and Tsurenko made 133 unforced errors.

Later that year, Bouchard defeated Bondarenko in Cincinnati in two tiebreaks. The two had met in the qualifying at the Rogers Cup all the way back in 2009 when Bouchard was just 15, and Bondarenko was turning 23. Bondarenko won that one, 6-2, 6-0.

Bouchard and Tsurenko met in Ukraine in Fed Cup, all the way back in 2013. It was similarly messy and Tsurenko multiplied the double faults. But Bouchard took that one 6-4, 7-5.

As for Abanda, she will meet both Tsurenko and Bondarenko for the first time.

“Local press” reaction

The reaction to Bouchard’s jab was about as you would expect.

One would expect that “Eugénie Bouchard, Grand Slam finalist” might be used quite a bit over the next two days.