Vancouver's Rebecca Marino wanted to put on a show for her loved ones on Friday.
As Canada's No. 2 seed in the Billie Jean Cup qualifier, Marino was going up against Latvia's top player in the series, Daniela Vismane — and she was doing it in front of a hometown crowd.
“I feel like I gave everyone their money’s worth with a three-set nail-biter match today," she said with a smile after rallying for a gutsy 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3 victory.
"Obviously some nerves at the beginning, just trying to settle into the match," she said. "And as it continued, I feel like I found my stride. I’m really proud of the fight and effort I put in today.”
The win gave Canada a convincing 2-0 lead after Leylah Fernandez of Laval, Que., downed Darja Seminstaja 6-1, 6-2 to open the indoor hard court series earlier in the day.
The winner of the qualifier will advance to the finals in November.
Marino admitted that she didn't watch much of Fernandez's match because she didn't want to be overwhelmed by the crowd inside Pacific Coliseum.
“It meant a lot to me to have all my closest friends, all my family right there in the stands. I can literally see them, see their faces. I want to do well for them," she said. "I’m really proud of today’s performance.”
Marino, ranked 111th in the world, used a blistering serve to top Vismane, firing 17 aces across the match and sending one ball soaring over the net at 200 km per hour.
“The serve was my one thing I could rely on really heavily today," she said. "Everytime I stepped up to serve on my service game I was feeling really confident, ready to go.”
Marino struggled with unforced errors at times, making 55 across the two-hour, seven-minute match.
She was repeatedly forced to play from behind in the second, but the crowd remained behind the Canadian, with the most boisterous applause erupting when she sent a return directly down the line to it up at 6-6.
A series of errors cost her in the tiebreak and Vismane took the set when Marino sent a return well beyond the service line.
The 31-year-old Canadian won three of six break points across the match, including one midway through the third set that gave her a 4-2 lead.
She clinched the win with yet another ace.
Vismane said she knew Marino would come in with a massive serve but refused to relent.
“I’m always a fighter on the court," she said. "And especially now when you play for your country, you don’t play for yourself, you play for all your country. So the level of fighting is much more. I just fight every point and pushed myself to the last point."
Fernandez, ranked 21st in the world, was dominant from the outset on Friday, firing a single ace and winning seven of nine break points.
“I think I managed my emotions fairly well," she said. "I tried to be offensive, tried to do what I trained during the week and what my style of game is. So I’m glad that I was able to execute it as best as I can.”
The 53-minute match also saw the 19-year-old Fernandez make some mistakes, including four double faults and conceding all three break points she faced.
She jumped out to an early lead, not allowing Semenistaja, the world No. 389, a single point in the first game.
The Latvian broke her Canadian counterpart's serve in the third game, but Fernandez rallied and did not drop another game across the set.
The crowd at Vancouver's Pacific Coliseum gasped as Fernandez streaked across the court to dig out a return and sent a backhanded shot across the court. Cheers echoed through the stadium as the ball landed just inside the line to give Canada the game and a 5-1 lead.
Fernandez began to falter midway through the second set.
Up 4-1, she double faulted then struggled with her returns, failing to notch a point as Semenistaja took her third break of the match.
Fernandez said she simply tried to forget about her mistakes as quickly as possible.
"I know mistakes will happen, I know she’ll hit her winners, I know I’ll make some unforced errors," she said. "I’ve just got to stay calm and find solutions as quickly as possible. And I’m glad those solutions worked in the right time, right moment.”
The Canadian caught a break in the next game when Semenistaja sent a return into the net, then put a ball long on the next point, giving Fernandez a 5-2 lead.
The runner-up at last year's U.S. Open, Fernandez closed out the match without allowing her opponent a single point in the final game.
The series will continue Saturday with Fernandez taking on Vismane, followed by a matchup between Semenistaja and Mariano. The action will conclude with Canada's Dabrowski and Carol Zhao taking on Liga Dekmeijere and Diana Marcinkevica in doubles.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2022.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press