Canadian Fed Cup tennis player Sharon Fichman of Toronto and her doubles partner Gabriela Dabrowski of Ottawa knew before their doubles match against Romania that Canada had lost the World Group best-of-five tie (competition) to the Romanians 3-1 and that any victory would be hollow.
The duo could have given themselves a “pity party” by not competing hard in that fifth match. Instead, the Canadians rose to the occasion, defeating the Romanian team of Andreea Mitu and Raluca Olaru 6-1, 4-6, 10-5 in the final match of the tie April 19 at the Maurice Richard Arena in Montreal.
The Canadians, upset with the loss of the tie, came out with flair in the first set with a concentrated effort, and broke their opponents twice to win the first set. The Romanians settled down, picking up their play in the second set, breaking Canada early and then trading serves in winning the second set 6-4.
In the 10-point tiebreak, Dabrowski and Fichman broke the Romanians on serve twice and held serve twice on their own to win the tiebreak decisively 10-5 and give the home crowd a taste of victory, but Romania won that stage of the competition 3-2.
“We came here to play as a team, irrespective of the result. We wanted the last memory of the tie for our Canadian fans to be a victorious one. So we went all out for the win, and although nobody on our team is happy with the result, Gaby [Dabrowski] and I were glad that we gave our best for our country at Fed Cup this weekend,” Fichman said after the doubles win.
Although Fichman and her Canadian teammates would not discuss the details of the Canadian loss, top-seeded Canadian Eugenie Bouchard of Montreal shocked her hometown fans with both her on-court play and her off-court behaviour.
At the opening draw ceremony, Bouchard did not shake the hand of her Romanian opponent, as is customarily done in international play, and then lost her two singles matches to players ranked 50 and over 100 ranking points below her.
To the credit of Fichman and the other Canadian players, all of them shook the hands of their Romanian opponents, even if Bouchard did not.
Canada’s loss in the World Group playoff relegates Canada to the world Group 2 nations section, for countries ranked from ninth to 16th in women's international tennis.
Fed Cup is a year-round global competition for women, similar to Davis Cup for men.
Thus far, 2015 has been a letdown for Fichman, who was sidelined with a knee injury in July 2014.
Prior to her injury, Fichman was Canada’s second-best female tennis player last year (with a ranking of No. 87) in singles and the top Canadian doubles player (ranked No. 56) as well. In 2014, she defeated four top-50 singles players at tournaments, including her close friend Shahar Peer of Israel, to reach her career high ranking in singles.
Since her injury, Fichman's inactivity has dropped her singles ranking to No. 206 in singles and No. 144 in doubles.
She hopes that her doubles win in Fed Cup play will give her confidence as she resumes starts tournament play again.
Fichman has always made herself available to play for her nation, even when it meant she would lose prize money and ranking points by foregoing tournaments to play Fed Cup. She was the youngest person ever, at age 14, to play Fed Cup for Canada, beginning in 2005.
“I have absolutely no regrets to play Fed Cup, even if I have to bypass tournaments. The experience of sharing the ups and downs with your teammates is such a contrast to what we normally do, as tennis is otherwise an individual sport. Playing for Canada makes me stronger mentally as well as being proud of all the milestones I achieved.”
At 24, Fichman is the oldest member of the Canadian Fed Cup team with an impressive 23-9 winning record in Fed Cup play.
Her team spirit was instilled when Fichman made history as the youngest athlete ever (also at 14) to win a gold medal for her nation at the Maccabiah Games in 2005.
“I felt the importance of playing for Canada even then. What made playing the Maccabiah Games even more special was sharing my Jewish heritage and developing friendships, as there was more to going to Israel than playing my matches.
“I have citizenship for both Canada and Israel and have so many relatives there that I feel as much at home there as I do in Toronto.”
Fichman is the first Jewish player to play Fed Cup for Canada since Vicki Berner of Vancouver did so from 1965-68.
She finished her junior career ranked fifth in the world in 2006, winning the prestigious Orange Bowl junior title in 2003.
Fichman was born in Toronto two years after her parents immigrated to Canada from Israel in 1988. Her parents moved to Israel after leaving Romania in 1983. She started playing tennis at age five and starting wining tournaments at age six.
To learn more about Fed Cup, go to www.fedcup.com.