Fernandez, Andreescu to lead Canadian squad against Italy and Switzerland at BJK Cup

Armed with a well-rounded lineup that has plenty of star power, Canadian captain Sylvain Bruneau is aiming high at this week's Billie Jean King Cup.

"We're capable of everything really," he said Monday on a pre-tournament video call from Glasgow.

The 12-team finals bracket features four groups at Emirates Arena. In Group A, Canada will open against Italy on Thursday and take on Switzerland on Friday.

Leylah Fernandez and Bianca Andreescu will likely serve as the singles weapons for a Canadian side that includes doubles star Gabriela Dabrowski, Rebecca Marino and Carol Zhao.

"It's a very talented team with a lot of experience," Bruneau said. "They love to represent their country, all of them, which is a great asset. They handle those moments really well."

All ties in the finals are best-of-three matchups with two singles matches followed by a doubles match.

Group winners will advance to Saturday's semifinals and the final is scheduled for Sunday.

Fernandez, from Laval, Que., is the highest-ranked Canadian in singles at No. 40. The 2021 U.S. Open finalist said the indoor hardcourt surface suits the Canadian side.

"We all grew up on indoor hardcourts so I think it's going to be a good advantage for us," she said. "We're just going to go out there and have fun. It's going to be good."

Fernandez reached the quarterfinals at the French Open this year but then missed over two months of action after suffering a stress fracture in her foot at Roland Garros.

Andreescu, from Mississauga, Ont., won the U.S. Open in 2019 and reached a career-high No. 4 singles ranking that year. She has since slipped to No. 46.

"Last year I didn't feel like myself basically," she said. "And this year I kind of came back and I'm dealing with the losses better and even the wins. I definitely don't like having the (No.) 46 beside my name so I definitely want to crack the top 10 hopefully in the next six months."

Dabrowski, from Ottawa, is ranked sixth in the world in doubles.

"We have, I think, probably the best lineup we've ever had for me as a captain," Bruneau said.

Switzerland is led by 13th-ranked Belinda Bencic — the Tokyo Olympic champion — and No. 35 Jill Teichmann. The 27th-ranked Martina Trevisan leads an Italian side with four players in the top 70.

Switzerland and Italy will meet in the Group A opener on Wednesday. Switzerland currently holds the No. 5 position in the nation rankings — a whisker ahead of No. 6 Canada — while Italy is 12th.

"A few points are going to make the difference and hopefully we'll be ready for the occasion when they come around," said Swiss captain Heinz Guenthardt.

There will be a new champion at the event — previously known as the Federation Cup — after Russia was suspended from competition.

The ban gave Australia a qualification spot as the highest-ranked 2021 semifinalist. Its original opponent in the qualifying round — Slovakia — also got a bye as a result.

Switzerland qualified after reaching last year's final and Belgium got a walkover win since Belarus is suspended from international team play.

"We will come back and win this title," Bencic said after falling to Russia in 2021.

Canada upset 2020 champion France last year before falling to Russia. Andreescu and Fernandez were not in the lineup.

Canada booked its spot in the 2022 finals with a 4-0 win over Latvia last April in Vancouver. Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Spain and the U.S. also won qualifying rounds.

Great Britain has a spot as the host nation.

Bruneau has captained the Canadian side several times in the past. He's filling in this week for Heidi el Tabakh, who's temporarily unavailable due to personal reasons.

Bruneau must submit his final lineup one hour before the start of match play.

"I think we're going to be very competitive," he said. "We do have the belief we can do really well. But we know that we have good competition. So one tie at a time."

Marino, from Vancouver, is ranked 67th in singles. Zhao, from Vaughan, Ont., holds the No. 169 position.

Canada has never reached the final at this tournament. Canada made it to the semifinals in 1988 before losing to Czechoslovakia.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2022.

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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press