Defending champ France loses at BJK Cup finals, Spain wins

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PRAGUE – Canada won the decisive doubles to upset defending champion France 2-1 in the Billie Jean King Cup finals.

Spain staged a comeback to beat Slovakia 2-1 for the first time after two losses, including the 2002 final. Also, the Czech Republic prevailed in the doubles to overcome Germany 2-1 in Group D, and Belgium beat Belarus 2-1 on the hard courts at the O2 Arena.

After the French and Canadian teams split the opening singles, Gabriela Dabrowski and Rebecca Marino defeated Lara Burel and Alize Cornet 6-3, 7-6 (6).

“We should be really proud of ourselves,” Marino said.

In the opening singles, the 353th-ranked Francoise Abanda rallied from a set down to upset Fiona Ferro, ranked 105th, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 to put Canada ahead.

“I was a little bit nervous at the beginning,” Abanda said. “I’m happy it turned out in my favor.”

Cornet tied it for France after beating Marino 6-4, 7-6 (5).

The victory marked Canada’s first over France since 1980.

Belgium’s Greet Minnen defeated Iryna Shymanovich 6-2, 6-2 and Elise Mertens overcame a second-set scare to beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 for an insurmountable 2-0 lead.

In doubles, Vera Lapko and Aliaksandra Sasnovich teamed up to take a consolation 6-4, 6-3 victory over Kirsten Flipkens and Mertens.

On Tuesday, Canada faces Russia and Belgium takes on Australia.

Lucie Hradecka and Tokyo Games doubles winner Katerina Siniakova joined forces to beat Germany’s Anna-Lena Friedsam and Jule Niemeier 6-4, 6 (2)-7, 10-8.

Earlier, three-time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber came from a set down to defeat French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova 6 (5)-7, 6-0, 6-4 to level the tie at 1-1.

“To be here again, it’s a great feeling,” said Kerber, who was on Germany’s team that lost to the Czechs in the 2014 final at the same arena.

Marketa Vondrousova dispatched Andrea Petkovic 6-1, 6-3 to give the Czechs the first point. The Tokyo Olympics runner-up dominated their first encounter, breaking Petkovic five times and dropping her serve once. She converted her first match point with a forehand winner.

“I was just playing my game, trying to do my best, so I’m happy,” Vondrousova said. “It’s just an amazing feeling to play for my country and also at home.”

Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo and Carla Suarez Navarro completed the comeback against Slovakia by topping Viktoria Kuzmova and Tereza Mihalikova 4-6, 6-2, 10-7.

Slovakia led 1-0 after Kuzmova hit nine aces and added 27 winners in beating Suarez Navarro 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

Suarez Navarro returned to professional tennis following chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin lymphoma at the French Open and has announced this will be her last season on tour.

Sorribes Tormo also needed three sets to make it 1-1 with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 win over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

Spain plays the United States on Tuesday while German meets Switzerland.

The competition formerly known as the Fed Cup was originally scheduled to take place in Budapest, Hungary in April 2020 but was postponed for 12 months because of the pandemic. In February, it was postponed again.

Organizers were then forced to find a new host – Prague – when Budapest backed out in May, citing lingering COVID-19 concerns.

The 12 teams in the finals are divided into four groups of three teams. Only the group winners advance to Friday’s semifinals.