QUEBEC — Canada will have to compete in a playoff tie to avoid relegation from World Group II after falling 3-2 to Belarus in the first round of the Fed Cup on Sunday.
Olga Govortsova and Aliaksandra Sasnovich came away with a 6-2, 6-4 triumph in double’s play over Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski and Carol Zhao of Richmond Hill, Ont., to seal the victory for Belarus.
"We were very competitive," said Canadian team captain Sylvain Bruneau. "I couldn’t have asked for much more from the girls… It came down to the decisive match and (Belarus) played better doubles today."
Entering the day tied 1-1, Montreal’s Francoise Abanda put Canada ahead with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Govortsova, but Sasnovich forced the fifth and deciding match with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Aleksandra Wozniak of Blainville, Que.
Govortsova and Sasnovich, who was a replacement for the originally nominated Vera Lapko, showed their 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 victory for Belarus in one hour nine minutes.
"I came here expecting to contribute and to play and I'm going to answer the call whenever it is needed," said Zhao. "We both tried our best out there and sometimes you come up short but you have to learn from the experience."
Canada now must participate in a World Group II playoff in April in order to maintain its position in the eight-team second tier of Fed Cup play for 2017. A loss would drop the team down to Americas Zone Group I, a place it hasn't been since 2013.