Andreescu headlines Canadian roster for Fed Cup, but playing status up in air

Tennis star Bianca Andreescu is on the Canadian Fed Cup roster and could make her return from a three-month injury layoff next week against Switzerland.

Whether she actually sees any match action at the Swiss Tennis Arena remains a question mark.

“We’re not making any decisions at this point,” coach Sylvain Bruneau said from Montreal. “She’s eligible, she’s on the team. But one thing is for sure, she’s only going to play if she’s perfectly, perfectly ready. If she’s just close to being (ready), she won’t play.”

Tennis Canada unveiled a four-player lineup of Andreescu, Eugenie Bouchard, Leylah Annie Fernandez and doubles specialist Gabriela Dabrowski on Tuesday. The winner of the Feb. 7-8 matchup on the indoor hardcourt will earn a berth in the Fed Cup Finals in April.

A healthy Andreescu would give Canada a strong weapon against Swiss star Belinda Bencic, who at No. 7 is one position below the Canadian in the WTA Tour rankings.

However, Andreescu hasn’t played a competitive match since suffering a left knee injury at the WTA Finals in Shenzhen, China. She had hoped to return at this month’s Australian Open, but pulled out before the start of the Grand Slam tournament.

Bruneau said Andreescu has been making strides in training but her playing status for Fed Cup won’t be decided until next week. He added that she’ll benefit from making the trip to Biel whether she sees action or not.

“We don’t look at it like she goes there and starts back with competing,” he told The Canadian Press. “We look at it like maybe it’s a way to start back. But maybe it’s a training week where she hits with the girls, she trains hard there, she does a lot of fitness, so we’ll see. But it’s not a plan to start competing with Fed Cup. But if she’s ready, it could be a good setup.

“It’s only two matches. It’s not a tournament where you play five or six matches, so it could be a good thing. We’ll see.”

Canadian captain Heidi El Tabakh has the option of making up to two roster changes before the Feb. 6 draw. A playing lineup can also be adjusted up until one hour before the start of a match.

The losing team will fall into a playoff tie in April against a Regional Group I nation for a chance to reach the 2021 qualifiers.

Joining Bencic on the Swiss team are No. 68 Jil Teichmann, No. 76 Viktorija Golubic, No. 117 Stefanie Voegele and No. 180 Timea Bacsinszky. Bencic is the highest-ranked doubles player on the squad at No. 114.

Heinz Guenthardt will serve as captain for ninth-ranked Switzerland. Canada, which is coming off a 4-0 World Group playoff loss to the Czech Republic last April, is ranked 13th.

The 19-year-old Andreescu was hampered by injuries throughout her breakthrough season last year. She started the year outside the top 150 but rocketed up the rankings after earning titles at the BNP Paribas Open, Rogers Cup and U.S. Open.

A shoulder injury last March kept her out of all but one match from April through July. She retired after one match at last year’s French Open and didn’t play at Wimbledon.

Andreescu, from Mississauga, Ont., has declined to offer specifics on the severity of her knee injury.

“Well I don’t need surgery so I wouldn’t say it’s very bad,” she said last month. “I can’t really say much about it. I’m just trying to rehab as much as possible and stay as positive as I can.”

Andreescu twisted her knee when she stretched to make a forehand return during a match in late October. She said at the time that she “heard a crack,” eventually withdrawing from the season-ending competition after getting results from an MRI exam.

Bruneau said Andreescu resumed on-court training last month in Los Angeles before travelling to Barcelona to meet with Dr. Angel Ruiz Cotorro, who has helped Spanish star Rafael Nadal with knee issues in recent years.

Andreescu has been training most recently in Monaco.

“Things are progressing nicely,” Bruneau said. “She’s hitting the ball really well, but we’ve been careful with the movement. So we’ll see how it goes.”

Bruneau has also declined to offer specifics on the injury.

“We’re keeping it right now as a knee issue,” he said.

This is the first year under the new Fed Cup Finals format. Reigning Fed Cup champions France, 2019 finalists Australia, host Hungary and the wild-card Czech Republic have already qualified for the 12-team final in Budapest.

Andreescu earned two singles victories in Canada’s 4-0 win over the Netherlands in a World Group II playoff last year. She has played in eight Fed Cup ties over her career and holds a 7-3 record in singles.

She’s slated to make her WTA Tour return next month in Dubai (Feb. 17-22) and is also entered in the Qatar Open in Doha (Feb. 23-29).

“But again, she would only play there if she’s perfectly ready,” Bruneau said. “So she’s entered and we’ll see. It’s difficult for now to say where she’s going to be in three weeks or a month. If the tournaments (were) now, she would not be playing.”

Fernandez, the world No. 207 from Laval, Que., is coming off her first appearance in a Grand Slam main draw. The 17-year-old French Open junior champion won three qualifying matches in Melbourne before falling in the first round.

Fernandez lost in her Fed Cup singles debut last year against the Czechs.

Bouchard, a former world No. 5, was eliminated in the final round of qualifying at the Australian Open and dropped her opening match at a lower-level Challenger Series tournament this week.

She fell out of the top 100 last summer and is currently ranked 212th. Bouchard, who owns a 12-4 record in Fed Cup singles play, secured two singles wins in her last appearance on the Fed Cup team, a 3-2 victory over Ukraine in a 2018 World Group II playoff.

Dabrowski, the world No. 8 in doubles, has a 7-6 doubles record since making her Fed Cup debut in 2013. She reached the WTA Finals in doubles for a third straight year last fall and has advanced to the quarterfinals in mixed doubles at the Australian Open.

Canada has a 3-2 edge in all-time head-to-head Fed Cup meetings against Switzerland dating back to 1967. Switzerland beat Canada 3-2 in the last matchup in 2004 at Dorval, Que.

In men’s play, Canada reached the championship at the Davis Cup Finals in November before falling to Spain.

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