SEVILLE, Spain – Leylah Fernandez steered Canada to their maiden Billie Jean King Cup title for the first time in their history as she delivered the decisive point in a 2-0 defeat of Italy in Seville.
The former US Open runner-up maintained her stunning form throughout the week as she beat Jasmine Paolini 6-2 6-3.
After the 21-year-old converted match point the Canadian team celebrated wildly on court in front of their jubilant fans.
“It feels amazing and I’m extremely proud that I was able to get to represent Canada on the biggest stage,” Fernandez said in an on-court interview.
“To do it in front of Billie Jean, it means the world to me, to us and hopefully we can keep going, celebrate tonight and just have fun.”
“I don’t know what to say,” Canada’s captain Heidi el-Tabakh said. “I’m so proud of this team, these girls are incredible.
“It’s a dream come true,” he added according to Reuters.
Teenager Marina Stakusic had earlier put Canada within sight of glory thanks to a stunning victory over Martina Trevisan.
The 18-year-old, 258th in the WTA rankings, produced a nerveless display to win 7-5 6-3 against an opponent ranked 43.
Only when victory was within her grasp did Stakusic wobble when four match points went adrift as Trevisan served at 2-5.
But she shrugged off that disappointment and powered through her next service game, ending the contest with a crunching forehand winner.
“I’m so happy and honoured that I could play this week, this has been the best week of my life,” Stakusic, who did not even play a WTA main draw match this year, said on court.
It was then over to Fernandez who duly claimed her fourth singles win of the week by outclassing Paolini.
Fernandez had produced heroics the previous day against the Czech Republic when she beat Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova to keep Canada in the semi-final.
She then teamed up with Gabriela Dabrowski to beat Czech multiple Grand Slam doubles champions Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova.
Canada’s team will receive $2.4 million in prize money — a record for the women’s team event formerly known as the Fed Cup.
They were also presented with the trophy while team members received blue jackets like the ones so-loved by Billie Jean King who watched the final from the sidelines.
Earlier in the week, Canada swept its way to a first-place finish in Group C with wins over host Spain and Poland. A 2-1 victory over Czechia followed in the semi-final with Fernandez and Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski clinching the tie with a 7-5, 7-6 (3) win in the doubles match.
At 5-0, Fernandez was a rock for Canada throughout the week. Stakusic — a virtual unknown entering the 12-team tournament — emerged as a breakout performer and Dabrowski was an anchor in doubles play.
The roster, captained by Heidi el Tabakh, also included Montreal’s Eugenie Bouchard and Vancouver’s Rebecca Marino.
“We’ve had an incredible week and to finish it off by winning the Billie Jean King Cup is a dream come true,” El-Tabakh said.
Canada was missing 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., who has been nursing a back injury.
Canada’s previous best showing at this event came in 1988 when it reached the semifinals before falling to Czechoslovakia. Canada did not make it out of group play last year in Glasgow.
Switzerland advanced and went on to beat Australia in the 2022 final.
Fernandez, the 2021 US Open women’s singles finalist from Laval, Que., broke Paolini’s serve in the final game to seal the victory in one hour 39 minutes.
The 18-year-old Stakusic, the world No. 258, wrapped up her win over the 43rd ranked Trevisan in 1:47 to improve to 3-1 on the week.
Canada became the 13th nation to win Billie Jean King Cup, a victory that was worth $2.4 million in prize money. The team members also received Billie Blue jackets as champions of the annual women’s team tennis championship.
Italy was looking for its fifth title and first since 2013.