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Canada overcomes injuries to top Ukraine in Fed Cup playoff 3-2


MONTREAL — Even with a rash of injuries, Canada's Fed Cup squad found a way to defeat Ukraine.

A closing 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory by the doubles team of Gabriela Dabrowski of Ottawa and Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga, Ont., over Olga Savchuk and Kateryna Bondarenko gave Canada a 3-2 win in the best-of-five World Group II playoff on Sunday.

"With all the adversity we had, against a team that on paper is ranked higher than us, it is extremely satisfying to come out with a victory like this," said Canadian team captain Sylvain Bruneau.

The teams had split the four singles matches, with Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., showing her determination to rediscover her old form with a pair of wins in her return to Fed Cup play after a two-year absence.

The victory keeps Canada in World Group II next year, while Ukraine, which played without its top player Elina Svitolina, drops to European zone play, a fate Savchuk called "horrendous."

Bouchard outlasted Lesia Tsurenko 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (5) but Dabrowski fell to Bondarenko to leave the teams tied 2-2 heading into the doubles.

"I'm proud of myself for this weekend," said Bouchard, the former world No.5 who has dropped to 117th in WTA rankings. "I had a job coming in here and I did it.

"I felt good with my tennis, good with my movement and I'm really proud of the way I fought, so it's a good building block for me."   

Bouchard's two hours 39-minute marathon left both players barely able to remain standing in the third set, but Tsurenko looked to be the worse off with apparent cramping in the legs, while Bouchard seemed to be struggling to breathe.

Bouchard finally prevailed in the tiebreak to give an edge to an already injury struck Canadian team.  

"I felt I won the mental battle today," said Bouchard.

Injuries forced doubles ace Dabrowski into singles play. While she won the first set, Bondarenko adjusted and had little trouble the rest of the way for a 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 win. Dabrowski is ranked 10th in the world in doubles, but 364th in singles.

Dabrowski was making nearly all her shots in a 28-minute first set, but it appeared that 78th-ranked Bondarenko was only sizing up her game before imposing her solid baseline play.   

Andreescu was called into service when Francoise Abanda of Montreal fell hard on her face during a warm-up drill just before her scheduled match Saturday, suffering a bruised eye. She tried hitting some balls Sunday morning but had to stop. She tweeted that she was suffering from whiplash and was unable to serve.  

Bruneau said the team hotel looked like a hospital ward overnight.

Tsurenko broke service for a 3-2 first-set lead. Bouchard was down 40-15 but reeled off four straight points to break serve and tie the set 4-4, but the Ukrainian broke back and served out the set.

Bouchard was up 2-0 and 40-0 in the second set and the packed grandstands at the 1,800-seat indoor court IGA Stadium were in full roar until Tsurenko turned up the tempo to win five straight points for a service break. But the Canadian came up with two more breaks to even the match.

The final set was highlighted at 2-2 by a more-than 15-minute game in which Bouchard fought off five break points before finally hitting long to give Tsurenko the lead. But then Bouchard broke back to make it 3-3. Then the two exhausted players toughed it out, with both players obviously suffering on court.

Tsurenko, massaging her legs between points, was unable to jump while serving and just tried to hit as hard as possible and make quick points.

"It was tough," said Tsurenko. "I was hoping just for some miracle shots.

"Unfortunately it didn't work at the end but that's tennis. Anything can happen."

She said playing on a "sticky" court was draining for the players, but she said Andreescu and Bouchard playing their best tennis also sapped her energy.

"Genie played really well so I had to move a lot and, because of (Saturday's) match I feel I was physically a little bit weaker than usual," she said. "I think that's why this happened because I'm usually strong and I can play a whole tournament without having any kind of trouble."

Even Bouchard was hurt on Saturday, but was able to finish off Bondarenko despite suffering a bone bruise on her left hand in a collision with a courtside towel rack. She said adrenaline and painkillers helped her get through her second singles.  

The 24-year-old Bouchard, a 2014 Wimbledon finalist, returned to Fed Cup play after a two-year absence to get in matches and try to claw her way back up the rankings.

Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press

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