The Canadian team won’t have its top player in the lineup for next week’s Fed Cup World Group II first-round tie against Belarus.
Eugenie Bouchard will not be available as she has decided to work on improving her game after missing the last few months of the 2015 season due to a concussion.
"I am disappointed to not play Fed Cup next week in Quebec City," Bouchard said Wednesday on Twitter. "Because of my shortened off-season due to my injury, I am still working on getting back into top form and preparing for the rest of the year and to represent my country in the Olympics this summer.
"I always look forward to playing in front of my Canadian fans and wish my teammates the best of luck."
Bouchard, who reached the Wimbledon final in 2014 and reached a career-high No. 5 in the world rankings later that year, suffered a head injury last September after falling in the locker-room at the U.S. Open. That ended a miserable season for the 21-year-old from Westmount, Que., who made several first-round exits last year and plummeted to No. 48 in the rankings.
"Of course it’s a bit of a disappointment but I totally, totally understand her situation and I have no problem with that," Canadian Fed Cup captain Sylvain Bruneau said on a conference call.
Bruneau will instead turn to Aleksandra Wozniak of Blainville, Que., who returns to Fed Cup play after sitting out last year with a shoulder injury. She’ll be joined by Montreal’s Francoise Abanda, Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski and Carol Zhao of Richmond Hill, Ont., at the Feb. 6-7 tie at Laval University.
World No. 16 Victoria Azarenka leads the Belarusian squad, which includes Olga Govortsova (No. 70), Aliaksandra Sasnovich (No. 105) and Vera Lapko (No. 533).
"We are aware that we are facing a very dangerous team," Bruneau said. "They have an elite player in Victoria Azarenka and they also have depth. Our team is composed of both young and experienced players. We want to make sure to have a very good week of training in Quebec City and take advantage of playing at home.
"We will be ready for some big battles."
Canada’s short run in the top-tier World Group ended last April after Romania edged the host side 3-2 at the Maurice Richard Arena in Montreal. Abanda had the lone singles win as Bouchard lost both of her matches.
Canada is ranked 12th in the Fed Cup nations standings, three positions ahead of Belarus. The two countries have never met in Fed Cup play.
Wozniak, 28, has a career record of 39-9 in the tournament and owns the national record for most career wins (39), singles wins (31) and ties played (34). She reached a career-high No. 21 in the world rankings in 2009 but has dropped to No. 836 after missing time with her injury.
Bouchard, meanwhile, has shown flashes of her previous form but remains a work in progress. She has risen to No. 37 in the world rankings and is coming off a second-round loss at the Australian Open.
"Without a doubt, her off-season was too short," Bruneau said. "She needs work on the tennis side and mostly as well on the fitness aspect. So I totally understand that she is going to take the next couple of weeks to work hard on her game and her fitness to try to play better for the rest of the year and be ready. Hopefully she can play the next tie and (at) the Olympics next summer.
"I know she is going to be representing Canada at some point in 2016."
The winner of the Canada-Belarus tie will advance to a World Group playoff against a first-round loser from the World Group. The loser will play in a World Group II playoff tie against a Zone Group I qualifier.
The 23-year-old Dabrowski leads the four Canadian players on the roster in the singles (No. 336) and doubles rankings (No. 46). She has two career WTA doubles titles, winning in Washington in 2014 and at Monterrey last season.
Zhao, 20, has played at the University of Stanford the last two years. The world No. 345 was a finalist at the 2015 NCAA Championships.
Abanda, 18, holds the No. 338 position in the world rankings.