By Charles David Mathieu-Poulin
(April 18, 2014) QUEBEC CITY – Once again, it seems as though home soil advantage may pay off again for the Canadian Fed Cup squad, as they aim to reach the World Group for the first time in 20 years against Slovak Republic this weekend in Quebec City. While the best available players showed up on the Canadian side in Eugenie Bouchard, Aleksandra Wozniak, Fichman and Dabrowski, the visiting crew will be trying to defend their World Group spot without Dominika Cibulkova, Daniela Hantuchova and Rybarikova, its best three players.
Three Slovakian players are absent – Cibulkova who decided to play a hardcourt event in Kuala Lumpur this week instead and Rybarikova, who withdrew due to back injury right before heading on court in a 6-2, 6-0 win in Katowice last week actually just decided to skip the tie. Similarly to Canada’s last tie played against a depleted Serbian team last February, it thus seems like the crowd favorites might pull off what is, in theory, an upset.
Aleksandra Wozniak, Canada’s oldest player on the team at 26, will start things off on Saturday against Jana Cepelova, who is just coming back from the finals in Charleston, by far the biggest accomplishment of her young career. While the Slovakian might be on the rise, she has limited Fed Cup experience (only 5 matches played, compared to 37 matches in 33 ties for her opponent, a national record) and the fast surface at Laval University is far from the green har-tru of South Carolina. On the other hand, except for a spark of brilliance in Indian Wells, Wozniak has been struggling since coming back from injury last year, and while a former number 21 in the world, she has yet to prove that she is completely back to her old form. This match is probably the most intriguing of the weekend and a must-win for the Slovak Republic: a win by Wozniak could possibly already seal the deal for Canada right from the get-go.
While Wozniak has been quite popular in her native province of Quebec over the years, it is nothing compared to the attention young Eugenie Bouchard has received over the past few months. Named WTA’s Best Newcomer in 2013 and a semi-finalist at the 2014 Australian Open, she is now in the top 20 and arguably one of the most marketable players out on the tour right now. While most players seem to struggle dealing with pressure, it seems like Genie thrives for it: being the number 1 player of the team suits her well, and she should prove it in the second match of the tie against relatively unknown Kristina Kucova. In a surprising move, Slovakian Captain Matek Liptak has indeed preferred Kucova, ranked 137th, to up-an-coming Schmiedlova (68th). While the reasons behind this choice are unknown (injuries, playing styles, favorite surfaces), Genie will be the strong favorite heading into this match.
In the reverse singles on Sunday, Bouchard should face Cepelova first, while Kucova is scheduled to face Wozniak. Depending on Kucova’s performance against Bouchard, don’t be surprised if Schmiedlova is actually sent on court for that one. In the deciding doubles match, Canadians Fichman and Dabrowski should face Cepelova and Husarova, who at 40 is by far the veteran of both teams and was remarkably part of the last Slovakian team to win the Fed Cup title in 2002. While Fichman and Dabrowki are Canada’s highest ranked doubles players, Canadian captain Sylvain Bruneau could well decide to throw Bouchard in the mix for the doubles match with Fichman, like he did last minute last year against Ukraine. A bold move that worked out well then, but that left Dabrowski, understandably, quite frustrated. Let’s just hope she doesn’t hold a grudge.
Match Schedule – Canada vs Slovak Republic World Group Playoff Tie
PEPS at Laval University, Quebec City
Saturday, April 19th (3pm ET).
Aleksandra Wozniak (CAN) vs. Jana Cepelova (SVK)
Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) vs. Kristina Kucova (SVK)
Sunday, April 20th (1pm ET).
Eugenie Bouchard (CAN) vs Jana Cepelova (SVK)
Aleksandra Wozniak (CAN) vs Kristina Kucova (SVK)
Gabriela Dabrowski/Sharon Fichman (CAN) vs Jana Cepelova/Janetta Husarova (SVK)
Charles David Mathieu-Poulin blogs for WtaQuebec www.wtaquebec.com, a website promoting local Quebec players. He is covering the Fed Cup in Quebec City for Tennis Panorama News. Follow him on twitter @earthstroke, follow his coverage on @TennnisNewsTPN.
Canada Early Favorite in World Group Playoff Tie against the Slovak Republic