TORONTO — Heidi El Tabakh has caught a couple breaks for her upcoming debut as captain of the Canadian Fed Cup team.
The recent breakout of teenager Bianca Andreescu has given her a bonafide No. 1 singles weapon in the World Group II first-round tie against the Netherlands. El Tabakh also doesn’t have to worry about ninth-ranked Kiki Bertens, who was not nominated to the Dutch side.
Andreescu won her first career WTA Tour title last weekend to cap an incredible month that saw her rocket from No. 152 to a career-best No. 68 in the world rankings. She’ll anchor a squad that includes world No. 218 Rebecca Marino, No. 219 Francoise Abanda and Gabriela Dabrowski, who’s ranked 10th in doubles.
"We have a lot of good women’s tennis players right now so I’m feeling really confident about the tie," Andreescu said.
The Netherlands will counter with No. 128 Arantxa Rus, No. 150 Richel Hogenkamp, No. 163 Bibiane Schoofs and Demi Schuurs — who’s ranked seventh in doubles — for the Feb. 9-10 tie on indoor clay at the Maaspoort Sports & Events facility in ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
Bertens, who has seven WTA singles titles on her resume, announced last fall that she would skip the tie to focus on tournaments in Doha and Dubai.
The Canadian side is also dealing with an absence as 76th-ranked Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., is sitting out. In a statement, Tennis Canada said Bouchard is working on building her ranking to get back in the top 50.
"She is fully committed to that objective and we respect that," the federation said in an email. "That being said, we know that Genie has been representing her country with great pride over the last eight years, winning an ITF heart award for the key role she played in Canada’s last Fed Cup tie in April.
"She will certainly continue to be a key asset for our team over the years to come."
Andreescu, from Mississauga, Ont., is brimming with confidence after beating former world No. 1s Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki in early January at Auckland. She is 16-2 on the season and sixth in the WTA Race standings.
"Even though she’s just 18, she has a lot of ties under her belt," said Tennis Canada president and CEO Michael Downey. "She loves to play for her country and she loves Fed Cup … she’s had an awful lot of matches to start the year but she’s got this week off, she’s got most of next week off, she won’t compete until Saturday.
"So hopefully there’s a good rest period here. But she’ll be ready."
The official draw for the best-of-five matchup is set for Feb. 8. Two singles matches will be played Feb. 9 and two more are set for Feb. 10 ahead of the doubles match.
"Our team is compiled of Canadian players who have been showcasing their talent on the world stage over the past few years," said El Tabakh. "They have been gaining valuable experience and are looking forward to the challenge ahead. We recognize that the Netherlands are a tough opponent, but we are eager for the opportunity to compete against some of the best players in the world."
The Netherlands is 10th in the Fed Cup rankings, seven positions ahead of Canada.
El Tabakh replaced Sylvain Bruneau as team captain last year. The 32-year-old Toronto resident spent 14 years as a pro on the women’s circuit before retiring in 2016.
"I know she’s committed and I know the players believe in her and that means an awful lot," Downey said. "Part of the reason she was selected is because of the relationship she has with the players and the credibility she has. And they’re going to be working not only to win, but also to help their new captain."
Bruneau shifted his focus to coaching duties with the national women’s program and Andreescu, who will be playing in her eighth career Fed Cup tie.
Andreescu has a 5-3 singles record and 3-0 mark in doubles while Abanda, from Montreal, is 5-5 over five previous Fed Cup ties.
Marino came back last season after a five-year break from the sport and will be making her first Fed Cup appearance since 2011. The Vancouver player has a 2-3 record over two previous ties.
Dabrowski, from Ottawa, is 6-8 over 11 Fed Cup appearances. She won the French Open mixed doubles title in 2017 and took the Australian Open mixed doubles crown last year.
Andreescu and Dabrowski won the decisive doubles rubber last April against Ukraine to secure Canada’s spot at the World Group II level.
Canada and the Netherlands have split six previous Fed Cup meetings.