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Canadian women reach Billie Jean King Cup final for the first time ever

Leylah Fernandez hits a return to Danielle Collins of the United States, during the National Bank Open tennis tournament in Montreal, Thursday, Aug.10, 2023. Fernandez and Billie Jean King Cup rookie Marina Stakusic will play singles for Canada in its opening tie against host Spain. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi Leylah Fernandez hits a return to Danielle Collins of the United States, during the National Bank Open tennis tournament in Montreal, Thursday, Aug.10, 2023. Fernandez and Billie Jean King Cup rookie Marina Stakusic will play singles for Canada in its opening tie against host Spain. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christinne Muschi
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SEVILLE, Spain -

Led by the inspired play of Leylah Fernandez, Canada has reached the final of the Billie Jean King Cup for the first time.

Fernadez and Gabriela Dabrowski upset Czechia's Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova in a second-set tiebreaker 7-5, 7-6 (3) on Saturday as Canada advanced with a 2-1 overall victory in the semifinal of the women's international team tennis tournament.

Fernandez gave Canada hope with a singles win against Marketa Vondrousova, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3, earlier in the day. She and Dabrowski then took down one of the best doubles teams in the world in the finale in Seville, Spain.

"It's a great day for Canadian tennis," said Fernandez, who added that the Canadian men's victory in the 2022 Davis Cup inspired her and her teammates.

"In the singles match, I was super happy to have the crowd with me, cheering me on that really helped me."

Canada will meet Italy in the 12-country final on Sunday.

Dabrowski, a 31-year-old from Ottawa, won the U.S. Open women's doubles championship two months ago.

Krejcikova, the 2021 French Open champion, has paired with Siniakova to win seven major doubles titles, including this year's Australian Open.

Canada won the opening set of the decisive doubles match. The teams stayed on serve until Canada broke their opponents to take a 6-5 advantage and then closed the deal with a win on serve.

The teams traded breaks late in the second set, and then Canada persevered in the tiebreaker, with Fernandez serving to send her team into the final.

Canada's Marina Stakusic opened the semifinal with a 2-6, 1-6 loss to Krejcikova. But Fernandez kept Canada's hopes alive with her win over Vondrousova, the reigning Wimbledon women's champion, in the day's second match.

"I just played my game and tried to take it to her," the 21-year-old Fernandez said after her singles win. "I love Billie Jean Cup tennis. It's the World Cup of tennis."

Canada advanced to the semifinals of the prestigious team event for only the second time and first since 1988.

Vondrousova, who broke through for a Grand Slam win at Wimbledon this summer, has won 14 straight matches at the Billie Jean Cup.

The world No. 7 saw her 26-set win and 13-match win streak snapped at the Billie Jean King Cup by Fernandez.

Fernandez held serve in a lengthy 10-minute opening game. She swiftly snatched a 4-0 lead and hung on for a 6-2 first-set victory.

The tables were reversed in the second set. Vondrousova rallied to win the second set, going ahead 4-0 to force a deciding set with a 6-2 second-set victory.

Vondrousova and Fernandez broke each other's serve to begin the deciding set. But the Montreal native, ranked No. 35 in the world, gave Canada a 3-1 lead, winning her serve in the second game and breaking Vondrousova and hung on to force a deciding doubles game.

Stakusic's magical run ended in the opening match against Czechia. Ranked 258th in the world, the 18-year-old from Toronto shocked two top-70 players in opening wins in Canada's group-stage victories against Spain and Poland.

She fell behind the 27-year-old Krejcikova after the Czech broke the Canadian's opening-match service game.

Stakusic fought back to trail in the first set 3-2, but the 2021 French Open women's champion stormed out to win three straight games to grab the lead.

World No. 10 Krejcikova was even better against her young opponent, winning the second set 6-1 to put a point on the board for Czechia.

In the first semifinal on Saturday, Jasmine Paolini defeated Tamara Zidansek, and Martina Trevisan downed Kaja Juvan as Italy sealed a 2-0 win against Slovenia.

The eighth-seeded Italians will seek their fifth Billie Jean Cup title, the first since 2013.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 11, 2023.

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