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Canada takes tennis world by storm for first Davis Cup crown

 


Canada: champion of the world.

In that other international sporting event sunday morning.

Lifted en masse – after the mass piling of the heroic Félix Auger-Aliassime – one of the world’s oldest trophies, the Davis Cup. Which bills itself as the World Tennis Championship.

While another Canadian squad went down in an elimination defeat at… you know.

Perhaps you have seen it, the moment of tennis triumph? Well, not if you were watching one of Canada’s official broadcasters, Sportsnet in English and TVA in French. Their international feed vanished just as Auger-Aliassime collected the final exclamation marks in a straight-sets victory over Australian No. 1 Alex de Minaur. Technology strikes again.

Celebrations were usually over by the time techies rebooted – isn’t that always the savvy advice of system administrators when computers go berserk? – and the satellite feed is restored.

However, the Canadian contingent in Málaga, Spain had nothing wrong, misfired or fired. Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov brushed aside their singles opponents for an unassailable 2-0 lead, meaning no decisive doubles were needed to triumph over Australia.

The first-ever Davis Cup title for Canada, which has competed in the tournament since 1913. Second time in the final after a second-place finish in 2019, when Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime were newcomers to the squad and Spain emerged victorious.

“The emotions are hard to describe,” Auger-Aliassime told the crowd at the exuberant Martin Carpena stadium. “We grew up together and dreamed of being on this podium, winning these kinds of games, winning the Davis Cup. It really is a dream come true. That’s what we play for. That’s what sports are for.

“It was a great moment for us and for the country.”

Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov, veteran Vasek Pospisil, captain Frank Dancevic – who last joined the team 14 years ago – and cheering substitutes Alexis Galarneau and Gabriel Diallo emerged with the hardware from a brilliant week of tennis, Málaga participants only as lucky losers in the March qualifiers, postponed as defending champion Russia was ejected following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.

It was sweet vindication for Pospisil, staunch Davis Cup warrior during the many years before Canada emerged as a chop tennis nation and, at 32, a decade younger than his Gen-X compatriots.

“Over the years we have slowly grown closer to winning the title,” he said afterwards. “In 2013 we had a bit of a run and made it to the semi-finals. Then we were in the world group for a while and made it to the final in 2019. It’s hard to explain, but (at the) start of the week it felt like we were going to win it. Just a little bit this feeling I had; maybe some of the other guys had it too.

Pospisil and Shapovalov won both of their deciding doubles matches as Canada, world No. 6, edged out Italy and Germany to reach the final, which required a full match count each time.

“We faced a lot of obstacles this week,” said Dancevic. “We were behind a lot of games, but we were in good spirits and kept fighting until the end, and we are here now with the trophy. It’s just an incredible feeling.”

Coda to that match point ending was Auger-Aliassime collapsing as his ‘mates crashed down the field in a swell of dizziness: “I saw the opening. I thought: this is it, I’m going for it. That is it. I saw the open track. I said okay just hit it.

There was nothing accidental about the execution, in fact Auger-Aliassime forced Di Minaur back and forth with cross-court groundstrokes until the Aussie fumbled a return to heaven and the encounter went on the books 6-3, 6-4 to a team could have used Nick Kyrgios a lot. “Not available” was the explanation of Australian captain Lleyton Hewitt. What he didn’t say: Too busy chasing a bag of shekels in exhibition games.

Auger-Aliassime, who hadn’t even committed to the Davis Cup until an early US Open bounce, was spun gold in Málaga just as he had led Canada to ATP Cup laurels in January. Three singles wins and a doubles win with Pospisil in Spain, putting him in the last minute for an utterly exhausted and battered Shapovalov in Saturday’s semi-final with Italy.

“When I saw the ball in the air, I thought, no, this is going out,” Auger-Aliassime said of match point. “My legs just fell down on me. Frank and everyone rushing me screaming, it was great. Yes, they are really special, special moments.”

The 22-year-old man with loose limbs from Montreal, the world number 6 in singles, didn’t even play his best game on Sunday and struggled with his first serve. But he had a handle on the big moments: throwing all eight break points, converting two of four break chances, firing 22 winners and drilling six aces.

Returning to the Davis Cup after a three-year absence, Shapovalov had set the table by dispatching Thanasi Kokkinakis in straight sets 6-2, 6-4. The 23-year-old from Richmond Hill had lost consecutive three-set heartthrobs last week and needed the trainer on Saturday to knead his back, which was shaking from the impact of hard landings on his right foot in his encounter with Lorenzo Sonego.

“Huge credit to the medical staff for getting me back into shape. There were many doubts about whether I would be ready to play today. It was really great to play pain free.” And he would have put on his double suit too if it had been necessary.

A whirlwind in action, often unnecessarily overplaying shots – that’s how he rolls – Shapovalov was checked and restrained on this day. A little excited on match point, cranking a volley too hard, but at 40-15 he delivered an irreversible serve on the T to put Canada on the brink of victory.

“So many moments,” Shapovalov mused when asked about the memories he will bring back from Málaga, before narrowing it down. “I think the doubles with Vasek in the first, quarter-finals against Germany, were huge. Going against an undefeated team, coming back from a set down. We just completely lit it up. It was crazy.

“We couldn’t miss a ball there. It was an out-of-body experience.”

Before Auger-Aliassime followed him onto the field, Shapovalov beamed at putting Canada 1-0 on the board. “Happy to get a singles win for the team. I felt close the last two races, but just couldn’t cross the finish line. “Hopefully Felix can close it for us.”

Indeed he did, putting the finishing touches to a remarkable season that included four tour titles and a career-best 60-27 record.

The immediate post-cup agenda, as Dancevic pointed out, was to paint the Spanish city of Maple Leaf red. “I will definitely go hard. I don’t know who’s going to follow me.” Adding wryly: “But I think it will be a team effort. Do we have those big champagne bottles on the track? We plan to get even bigger tonight.

ole ole ole

Rosie DiManno is a Toronto-based columnist covering sports and current affairs for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno

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