Fernandez clinches win as Canada tops Italy in Billie Jean King Cup Finals

SEVILLE, Spain — Marina Stakusic provided yet another upset victory and Leylah Fernandez continued her unbeaten run Sunday as Canada won its first-ever Billie Jean King Cup title with a 2-0 win over Italy.

Stakusic, the world No. 258 from Mississauga, Ont., put Canada ahead by defeating No. 43 Martina Trevisan 7-5, 6-3 for the biggest win of her career, then Fernandez sealed it by beating Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-3 at Estadio la Cartuja.

"We're world champions and we rightfully deserve it," Fernandez said.

The 35th-ranked Fernandez, runner-up in the 2021 U.S. Open, was perfect for Canada with five victories, while the 18-year-old Stakusic entered the tournament without a win over a top-100 opponent but earned three of them while representing her nation in Spain.

Canada had beaten 11-time champion Czechia in the semifinals, while four-time champion Italy advanced past Slovenia for its first final appearance since 2013.

Earlier in the week, Canada swept its way to a first-place finish in Group C with wins over host Spain and Poland. Fernandez and Ottawa's Gabriela Dabrowski clinched a 2-1 semifinal win with a 7-5, 7-6 (3) victory in the doubles match.

Canada's previous best showing at this event came in 1988 when it fell to Czechoslovakia in the semifinals.

"Everyone's put in literal blood, sweat, and tears over the years," Dabrowski said. "Like, literal blood, sweat, and tears. It's felt like on one hand like a huge relief, but in the most positive way that I could say it. It's like a weight has been lifted off our shoulders."

The Canadian roster, captained by Heidi el Tabakh, also included Montreal's Eugenie Bouchard and Vancouver's Rebecca Marino. Canada was missing 2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., who has been nursing a back injury.

Fernandez, from Laval, Que., broke Paolini's serve in the final game to seal the victory in one hour 39 minutes.

"She played at an amazing level today," Paolini said. "For me, it was tough to try to do something. She was always pushing me behind the line, she was always taking the time to take the winner."

The 18-year-old Stakusic wrapped up her win over Trevisan in 1:47 to improve to 3-1 on the week.

"I knew that we all were gaining confidence and we really believe in ourselves," Stakusic said. "It all ended up paying off in the end."

The 12-team BJK Cup Finals offered a record total of US$9.6 million in prize money, including $2.4 million to the champions, the same as the men's Davis Cup. The Canadian team members also received Billie Blue jackets as tournament champions.

Canada is the 13th nation to win the Billie Jean King Cup, and the second new champion after Switzerland’s triumph in Glasgow a year ago.

The women's teams competed in four round-robin groups, with the winners advancing to the semifinals.

The biggest team competition in women’s tennis started two days after the end of the WTA Finals in Cancun, Mexico, which featured the top eight players on the tour -- including winner Iga Swiatek of Poland.

The Canada men's team is the current Davis Cup champion. Spain will host the Final 8 stage of the Davis Cup Finals from Nov. 21-26 in Malaga.

Montreal's Felix Auger-Aliassime headlines a Canadian roster that includes Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C., Montreal's Gabriel Diallo and Alexis Galarneau of Laval, Que.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2023.

- With files from The Associated Press.

The Canadian Press