Going on the road to play Billie Jean King Cup is already a challenge.
And that’s especially true during COVID-19 times.
But if it helps the road team that there are no fans in the stands, Team Canada has a bigger challenge this weekend at the Sport Hall Ibar in Kraljevo, Serbia.
Top Canadian Bianca Andreescu is out, after a foot injury was aggravated during her Miami Open final against Ashleigh Barty.
Genie Bouchard begged off a few weeks ago. And top doubles player Gaby Dabrowski also isn’t in the house.
So 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez, who is first up against Serbian No. 2 Olga Danilovic Friday, leads the team.
Here she is on Thursday, speaking after the draw ceremony was held.
Rebecca Marino plays No. 2 singles. Sharon Fichman and Carol Zhao round out the squad.
Here’s Marino talking about the challenges ahead.
Only four players on the squad
A year ago in Biel, Switzerland, Team Canada brought four players and ended up down two, as Bianca Andreescu (who was never likely to play anyway) and Genie Bouchard (who suffered a wrist injury on the practice court the day before the opening ties) were out of action.
In the end, doubles specialist Gaby Dabrowski was called upon to play singles, even though she hadn’t even practiced singles during the off-season.
She was game in defeat. But Dabrowski was fortunate not to have been injured, given the lack of practice. It could have cost her the opportunity to make her living going forward.
Captain Heidi El Tabakh said that the current circumstances made it difficult to consider bringing a fifth player to Serbia.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the players are struggling with minor, little injuries at the moment. And I think what’s important is their health. It’s an important year with the Olympics coming up. And with the COVID restrictions, it doesn’t make it any easier,” El Tabakh said. “But I have four healthy players here, and they’re all eager to compete for their country. It’s going to be tough, but we’re looking forward to it.”
El Tabakh on Andreescu
“It was a bit scary, because we didn’t know how serious the injury was. She had re-injured her foot. But it’s good to know that it’s nothing too serious, and hopefully she can be back on court in no time,” El Tabakh said of Andreescu’s absence. “The good news is that we have a lot of depth in our team, a lot of great girls. Unfortunately Bianca couldn’t be here with us but I wish her a speedy recovery.
“She’s been out of competition for such a long time, and health is what’s most important, and for her to have a healthy rest of the year. I support her in every way possible. And I know she wishes she was here, she’ll be cheering the girls on from … where she is.”
Bouchard focusing on singles
As for Bouchard, who has had great and not-so-great moments in Billie Jean Cup, but who has also declined to play on multiple occasions, El Tabakh said the 27-year-old would be back.
“(Bouchard) is also very disappointed she couldn’t be here. Again, it’s a tough year with Covid, and with the Olympics coming up. She’s focusing on the clay-court season. And doing her best right now to focus on her singles ranking. She’ll definitely be ready to play in the upcoming ties for sure.”