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Belarus stun Canada in Fed Cup

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Following a 3-2 loss to Belarus in the Fed Cup by BNP Paribas World Group II first round on Sunday, in a tie that went to a deciding doubles rubber, the Canadian Fed Cup team will now be forced to compete in a play-off tie to avoid relegation. Entering the day tied 1-1, Francoise Abanda (Montreal) earned the go-ahead victory 6-4, 6-4 over world No. 74 Olga Govortsova before Aliaksandra Sasnovich forced a fifth and deciding match with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Aleksandra Wozniak (Blainville, Que.). Govortsova and Sasnovich then teamed up to complete the comeback from 2-1 down with a 6-2, 6-4 triumph over Gabriela Dabrowski (Ottawa) and Carol Zhao (Richmond Hill, Ont.) at PEPS on the campus of Laval University in Quebec City.

Gold medallists at the Pan Am Games last year, Dabrowski and Zhao have enjoyed success together, but Govortsova and Sasnovich (who was a replacement for the originally nominated Vera Lapko) showed their overall experience in the deciding doubles rubber – combined they have played 41 Fed Cup ties to Dabrowski and Zhao’s eight. The Belarusians cruised to the first set as Dabrowski and Zhao did not hold their serve until the first game of the second set. The Canadians had their chances, but Govortsova and Sasnovich maintained control for the duration of the duel, which was Zhao’s Fed Cup debut, and clinched the triumph for Belarus in one hour and nine minutes.

The deciding doubles rubber was required after the teams split the day’s two singles matches. Abanda opened the day on a strong note with her win over Govortsova, who lost both of her singles matches this weekend. It was an up-and-down duel, lasting one hour and 41 minutes, with neither player able to wrest control through the early goings of both sets. Govortsova held 4-2 leads in the first and second sets but No. 343-ranked Abanda climbed back each time. She ultimately was the steadier player throughout the match, using her aggressive play to earn decisive breaks at the 5-4 mark of both sets to clinch the win. In total, 19-year-old Abanda went six-for-14 on break opportunities while saving four of the eight break points she faced en route to her second career Fed Cup win.

In the second match of the day, Wozniak was unable to summon the same performance that gave her a win a day earlier as she lost in one hour and 35 minutes. The first set was all even with no service breaks until Wozniak dropped her serve at the 4-5 mark. It was another close affair in the second set. Both players had broken each other twice, before Sasnovich clinched again at 5-4 for the victory. The 21-year-old, ranked world No. 99, was the rock of team Belarus through the weekend, going 3-0 in her matches. For Wozniak, it was her 50th Fed Cup contest, and it brings her record to 40-10.

Canada now must participate in a World Group II play-off, set to take place April 16-17, in order to maintain its position in the eight-team second tier of Fed Cup play for 2017. A win in April would leave Canada in World Group II for another year while a loss would drop the team down to Americas Zone Group I, a place it hasn’t been since 2013. For its part, Belarus advances into the World Group play-offs, where it will play for the chance to make World Group for the first time.

Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) d. Francoise Abanda (CAN) 64 26 63

Aleksandra Wozniak (CAN) d. Olga Govortsova (BLR) 62 62

Francoise Abanda (CAN) d. Olga Govortsova (BLR) 64 64

Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) d. Aleksandra Wozniak (CAN) 64 64

Olga Govortsova/Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) d. Gabriela Dabrowski/Carol Zhao (CAN) 62 64