MONTREAL — After qualifying for a second year in a row at her home tournament on Sunday, Heidi El Tabakh gave a subdued fist pump and politely applauded to the supportive crowd.
She hopes to save her big celebrations for this week, when the main draw at the US$2 million Rogers Cup gets underway.
“I’m pretty happy, but I’m not done,” the 23-year-old native of Oakville, Ont., said. “I’m still in the tournament.”
El Tabakh will be the fourth Canadian in the main draw at the Rogers Cup after earning a spot as a qualifier with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 comeback victory Sunday over Croatia’s Karolina Sprem.
She did the same thing in Toronto last year, and El Tabakh feels it shows her affinity for being in familiar surroundings.
“It means I like playing at home,” the Egyptian-born El Tabakh said with a smile. “It feels great to play in front of that crowd. It gives you that extra boost.”
She needed it Sunday after losing the first set 3-6, and the crowd on centre court at Uniprix Stadium provided the motivation she was looking for.
“I just had to stop thinking,” El Tabakh said of her recovery. “I told myself I don’t need to think about the score too much, I just need to focus on making my shots.”
It also didn’t hurt that Sprem completely lost control of her serve.
Sprem hit on 56 per cent of her first serves in the opening set with four double faults, but over the final two sets her accuracy dropped to 33 per cent and she committed 12 double faults, including seven in the decisive final set.
El Tabakh feasted on Sprem’s second serve over the final two sets, winning the point 25 out of 37 times.
But even though Sprem appeared to be unravelling, El Tabakh had to remain sharp against a player that was once ranked No. 17 in the world.
“It’s tricky,” said El Tabakh. “You know at any moment she might come back.”
This is the first WTA event El Tabakh has qualified for since her dream run at this year’s French Open, where she won three matches just to reach the main draw but then lost to Arazane Rezai in the first round.
El Tabakh, at No. 211, will be the lowest-ranked player in the tournament but she says she will approach the week much as she did the qualifying tournament.
“I came here with no expectations,” she said. “I don’t even take it one match at a time, I take it one point at a time. I just try to enjoy it.”
Quebecers Aleksandra Wozniak of Blainville, Stephanie Dubois of Laval and Valerie Tetreault of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu all received wild cards into the main draw which gets underway Monday.
Wozniak and Dubois will play their first matches on centre court this evening, while Tetreault and El Tabakh will get underway on Tuesday. The tournament’s top eight seeds receive a bye into the second round.
Vancouver native Rebecca Marino came up one match short in her bid to make it five Canadians in the tournament, losing 6-4, 6-4 to Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova. Though the score was close, Marino struggled against the 69th-ranked Makarova the entire match, consistently fighting to hold serve while rarely getting a point in return games.