No rest for the weary. Not with a country hanging on to your coattails.
That Canada made it into Sunday’s final at the Davis Cup — versus Australia — wasn’t entirely down to Félix Auger-Aliassime. It’s a team tennis tournament after all, and every hand on deck had a hand on the racket.
But just as the 22-year-old from Montreal provided a crucial leg-up boost in the quarterfinals 48 hours earlier by keeping the Canadian outfit alive and sending that outcome into a doubles decider, so too did he take the reins Saturday: doing double duty, straight-setting his singles match and substituting in the doubles crunch for a wrung-out Denis Shapovalov to eliminate Italy 2-1.
And since we’re double-fisting clichés here, over to you, Félix.
“I feel like in the Davis Cup there is no time to get tired. We got broken in both sets and we bounced back, and we broke back with the right attitude. Once we had our back against the wall, you just try your best, and luckily today it went our way.”
Auger-Aliassime and partner Vasek Pospisil were broken three times by Fabio Fognini and Matteo Berrettini, the latter also a surprising deadline swap because he was nursing a lame foot. But the Italians hadn’t advanced to a Davis Cup final since 1998 and even a hurting Berrettini, ranked 16th in singles, figured as their best shot this time ’round in Málaga, Spain.
The Félix-Vasek tandem prevailed 7-6(2) 7-5 and won the tie (which is Davis Cup-speak for an elimination round).
Auger-Aliassime, who’s been rolling on the ATP Tour — four titles this year, three in succession last month — scarcely had time to change his socks after seeing off Lorenzo Musetti 6-3, 6-4 in his singles showcase, erasing the points deficit left by Shapovalov’s earlier three-set loss to Lorenzo Sonego, an exhausting three-hour, 15-minute encounter that required a brace of tiebreaks. So Sonego was fatigued, too.
But Auger-Aliassime played cracking good tennis all day. To the heroic rescue, as he had been on Thursday against Germany — which was eventually determined by Shapovalov and Pospisil in doubles — and just as he’d pushed Canada through in the September group stage against Spain, stunning world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz. The lanky righty has won six of the seven Davis Cup matches he’s played this season. To go along with all the other braces that have lifted him to world No. 6.
“This has been a special journey in a special journey,” said Auger-Aliassime, referring to Team Canada rather than himself, though either would fit. “I think this is the most complete team we have had in the history of Canadian tennis and we deserve to be in this position.”
A history with just one (1) other final appearance since Canada debuted at Davis Cup in 1913 — runner-up to Spain three years ago, a team that featured Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov and Pospisil. These circa ’22 Canadians had only edged sideways into the tournament, reprieved from a qualifiers loss to the Netherlands in March when they were awarded a wild card with the suspension of 2021 champion Russia. Because… you know.
“I’m just proud of this team and so proud of the guys, what they have accomplished,” said over-the-moon Canadian captain Frank Dancevic.
The three on-court amigos bought in completely: “I feel like the whole team connected around this idea, and there was no ego in the wrong place,” said Auger-Aliassime.
The pressure was on him massively, though, to bring Canada level in the immediate wake of Shapovalov’s 7-6(4), 6-7(5), 6-4 defeat. The 23-year-old from Richmond Hill had unspooled a valiant effort, showing off his signature flare on dramatic shots, despite requiring treatment on his right side from a trainer between the third and fourth games of the third set. But he was done in by double faults — seven in the third set alone, including at match point — and a preposterous 1-for-13 on break-point chances.
“Anyone that watched the match can say that the level was super, super high,” said Shapovalov of his battle with Sonego. “So, definitely a tough one to lose for me, for the team. But like they said, I left everything out there. Sonego was just too good today.”
Sonego’s service was formidable, while Shapovalov didn’t do enough on the second serves he saw: “I had a lot of opportunities, but (Sonego) was playing big. He was coming up with some big forehands, some big serves and in important times. Big credits to him.”
For Auger-Aliassime’s part, he fairly well cruised through his singles match with Musetti. Fired a dozen aces, dropped a mere three points on his serve, never faced a break point and converted two of four break chances.
With all the marbles on the line — a record day for clichés here — the doubles fandango was two-set taut.
“I thought it was very high level on both sides in the doubles, and we especially played really well as a team,” said Pospisil, the 32-year-old veteran from Vernon, BC
Truthfully, though, the only nervous hint of trouble experienced by the Canadians in the waning moments came in what turned out to be the final game. With Auger-Aliassime serving for the match, they found themselves in a 15-40 hole. Then Auger-Aliassime fired off three straight unreturned serves to set up match point, returned wide.
That deserved a pitcher of sangria.
“We are going to celebrate a bit tonight, for sure,” said Dancevic. “But we have another match tomorrow. The ultimate goal is to win the cup, and that’s what we are dialed in to do.”
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