On paper, the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II tie between Canada and Netherlands held all the ingredients to turn into a long and gruelling battle until the very last ball was struck.
The visiting Canadian team thought otherwise, scoring a 4-0 win against the Dutch on an indoor clay court that was aimed at hurting their chances.
Bianca Andreescu was the highest-ranked player in the tie at No. 70. The 18-year-old lived up to that status by gaining two points for Canada. After beating Dutch No. 2 Richel Hogenkamp in the first rubber on Saturday, the in-form teenager sealed the win for her nation in the third rubber against Arantxa Rus on Sunday, 6-4 6-2.
It became evident why Andreescu considers Fed Cup weekends among the happiest moments in her life. What is not to like about a large team and loud fan base supporting your every step? The confidence enabled the 18-year-old to thrive again on Sunday, putting world No. 129 Rus on the back foot from the very beginning.
Crystal clean hitting resulted in a quick 3-0 lead for Andreescu, but Rus was allowed a comeback to 3-3 after the Canadian took a tumble on the red clay in Hertogenbosch, and started missing the mark more often. Andreescu came out unharmed and responded with another break of serve and hold to go up 5-3, eventually taking the first set 6-4 following a solid service game.
Apart from liking a clay court, Rus and Andreescu have in common their junior tennis success. The Dutchwoman won the 2008 Australian Open juniors single title, while Andreescu took the junior doubles crown in Melbourne in 2017.
The second set started with another break of serve by Andreescu, who never looked back and went on to claim the match and the tie for her team. The result guarantees Canada a ticket to the World Group play-offs in April, while the Dutch will have to fight relegation from World Group II in their next Fed Cup encounter.
Day one saw Canada take a 2-0 lead after Andreescu and Francoise Abanda were each too strong for respective opponents Richel Hogenkamp and Rus, setting up the stage in the Maaspoort Sports & Events venue for Andreescu to notch the team victory in the third rubber on day two. The youngster didn’t fail and along the way improved her Fed Cup win-loss record this weekend to 7-3 and helped Canada to take a 4-3 lead in the head-to-head with the hosts.
The tie ended with a fourth win for Canada in the dead doubles rubber, featuring Top 10 doubles player Gabriela Dabrowski alongside Rebecca Marino against doubles world No. 7 Demi Schuurs and Bibiane Schoofs. The Canadians survived three match points in the deciding match tiebreak to win 2-6 7-5 12-10.
Dutch team captain Paul Haarhuis was characteristically honest in his recap of the tie. “The second rubber was key,” he said about the match-up of Rus and Abanda that went to distance on Saturday. “Before the tie we were counting on two losses against Andreescu, so that second rubber was key for our chances,” the impressed Haarhuis admitted, adding that he expects the young Canadian No. 1 to reach the Top 20 by the end of the year.
All the praise from the hosting team left Andreescu blushing. "That's really nice to hear. My goal going into 2019 was to get into the main draw of the French Open, which I have already accomplished. Top 20 would be fantastic. I guess I will just keep it at Top 50, just so that I don't put too much pressure on myself. I'm only 18 and have a long career ahead of me. But I do think I can achieve that."
Rus tried to explain why playing Andreescu is such a challenge. “She has so much confidence and comes up with the right solutions all the time. She hits aces when she needs to and basically has all the shots in the book.”
Andreescu has recorded 18 wins in 2019 and lost only twice this season, a feat that played an important part in the home team’s insecurity facing her. "I feel like everything is just clicking right now,” the euphoric, yet collected Andreescu declared. “I have put in a lot of work throughout the years and now it's paying off. I didn't expect it to come so quickly, but better now than later I guess. I'm really really proud of myself."
The tie was a great success for debuting Canadian team captain Heidi El Tabakh, whose presence was highly valued by all the players, fronted by Andreescu.
"Heidi is an incredible coach and an incredible person. She cares so much and is very passionate to be in the position she is in right now. Hopefully she can continue like this and we can win this whole thing.
In other ties played around the world this past weekend, in World Group action Australia defeated USA 3-2, France beat Belgium 3-1, Belarus destroyed Germany 4-0 and Romania shocked Czech Republic 3-2.
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