Photo : Davis Cup/Kosmos Tennis
Another day, another thrilling comeback by Team Canada presented by Sobeys.
The Canadians have one foot in the Davis Cup knockout stage after stunning the hosts Spain 2-1 in their group stage tie on Friday in Valencia.
Friday’s clash followed a similar script to Canada’s 2-1 victory over South Korea on Tuesday, with the two nations splitting the singles matches before the Canadians rallied from a break down in the third set of the decisive doubles match to claim the victory.
Canada’s unlikely victory would have been impossible if not for a historic upset in the second singles match that saw Félix Auger-Aliassime stun the newly-minted world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz in the second singles match to set up Auger-Aliassime and Vasek Pospisil’s comeback win in the doubles.
All Canada needs now is a good result on Saturday against Serbia, or a loss by Spain against South Korea on Sunday, in order to advance to the knockout stage of the Davis Cup which will take place in Malaga in November.
Everything came down to the final match of the day, the doubles, which start less than an hour after Auger-Aliassime completed his singles match. The quick turn-around may have affected him early as the Montrealer had his serve broken in the opening game of the match.
While the Canadians settled in after that, but were unable to get anything going on the Spanish team’s serve. They never led on Spain’s serve in the opening set, which Granollers and Martinez won 6-4.
Undeterred, the Canadians continued to press in the second set, saving a couple of break points before converting their first break point of the match at 5-4 to send the entire tie to a final set.
Everything looked lost when the Spaniards broke serve midway through the deciding set, were two points away from victory at 5-3, 30-all and then served for the match at 5-4. But the Canadians refused to quit and broke Martinez as he tried to close out the win for Spain.
Pospisil then stepped up and served the Canadians to a 6-5 lead and they again applied heavy pressure to the Spaniards in a high-pressure game. Just like they did all match, Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil played their best tennis when it mattered most, breaking Granollers to seal the win for Canada.
From 3-5 down, the Canadians won the last four games of the match in a row. They were perfect on break point conversion, seizing all three opportunities they say, all of them at crucial moments in the match.
The doubles win built on what had already been a dramatic day in Valencia, highlighted by Félix Auger-Aliassime’s shocking upset of Carlos Alcaraz to keep the Canadians alive after Vasek Pospisil lost the opening singles match.
In a nearly three-hour battle filling with gruelling rallies and stunning shot-making, it was the Canadian who maintained his level and never blinked in the key moments, calling on his best tennis to silence the home crowd with a 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-2 victory.
With the win, Auger-Aliassime joins a short list of Canadians to defeat the current world No. 1. That list includes Daniel Nestor, who also did it in Davis Cup action beating Stefan Edberg in 1992, and his current Davis Cup teammate Vasek Pospisil, who beat Andy Murray in 2017.
Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil will now team up to try and clinch the win in the deciding doubles match against Marcel Granollers and Pedro Martinez.
Coming off a disappointing loss to Soonwoo Kwon on the opening day of the Davis Cup group stage, Auger-Aliassime found his top level against the world No. 1, ripping more than twice as many winners as unforced errors 39 to 18. He was better than Alcaraz in both categories, as the Spaniard had 21 of each.
Serving was key to the Canadian’s win as he struck 10 aces and won 81 per cent of his first serve points. He was also never broken in the match, saving all seven break points he faced.
Right from the start, Auger-Aliassime was playing at a high level, applying constant pressure to the Alcaraz serve. He then hit a spectacular smash to go up a minibreak and lead the tiebreak 3-1, only for the world No. 1 to turn things around and win six straight points to take the opening set despite winning three fewer points than the Canadian.
Alcaraz then looked poised to take a stranglehold on the match when he reached break point, his first of the match, at 3-2 in the second set. But Auger-Aliassime came up big, saving it with a swinging forehand volley.
At 4-all, the Canadian made his move. After an generous net cord, Alcaraz sent a shot long to surrender the first break of serve of the match. Auger-Aliassime promptly served out the set to send it to a decider, where he carried his momentum over by breaking the world No. 1 again in the opening game.
The crucial moment in the third set came with Auger-Aliassime serving up 2-1. Errors from the Canadian gave Alcaraz a double break point opportunity, but a missed backhand followed by an ace levelled the game.
Twice more Auger-Aliassime stared down break points, but both times he was up to the challenge and managed to hold for a 3-1 lead. He then took advantage of the disappointment for Alcaraz by drawing some errors and breaking again for a 4-1 double-break lead.
Having not been broken all day, the result seemed inevitable now with Auger-Aliassime up two breaks. Alcaraz, as has become his reputation, fought to the last ball and made the Canadian fight for it as he served for the match.
Auger-Aliassime needed to save two more break points, one with an ace and another with a huge forehand winner down the line, before crushing one more unreturnable serve to clinch the upset on his second match point.
By ranking, it is the biggest win of Auger-Aliassime’s career as it was his first win over a world No. 1.
Now he will look to wrap up the day on a high note by teaming up with Pospisil in the doubles. A win would clinch the tie for Canada and move them to 2-0 in Group B, all but assuring the Canadians of a spot in the November’s knockout stage in Malaga. The top two teams in each group advance to the next round.
Canada needed a win from Auger-Aliassime after Vasek Pospisil was beaten in three sets by Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut in the opening singles match.
Pospisil took the opening set but the Spaniard, buoyed by the support of the home crowd in Valencia, dug in and proved too consistent for his Canadian opponent, grinding out a 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 win.
An upset win from Félix Auger-Aliassime and a doubles victory are now necessary if Canada is to pull out a win in this tie.
Consistency was the name of the game for Bautista Agut, who was massively outgunned by Pospisil but managed to play a cleaner match. The Canadian ripped 31 winners, almost triple his opponent’s 13, but Bautista Agut committed a mere 13 unforced errors while Pospisil had 33.
Unlike his first match against Korea, Pospisil came out serving well, opening with a love hold and facing minimal danger in service games through most of the opening set. Midway through the first, the door opened on return for the Canadian as a string of strong returns gave him a love-40 advantage and he closed out the break with a smash.
Serving out the set was the first challenge Pospisil faced as he double-faulted to go down 15-40. However, Bautista Agut missed passing shots on both break points which allowed the Canadian to escape the danger and take the opening set.
Bautista Agut quickly turned the table in the second set, going ahead 15-40 for the second Pospisil service game in a row. The Canadian once again saved both, but this time a strong passing shot from the Spaniard set up a third break point and Pospisil sent a forehand long to go down a break.
Despite applying pressure to his opponent’s serve several times in the second, Pospisil was unable to create a break-back point as Bautista Agut forced a deciding set.
Pospisil needed a medical timeout early in the third set but nearly turned things around when he held a break point in the fourth game. He sent a backhand long and paid for it in the next game when Bautista Agut broke him to go up 3-2.
Despite throwing everything he had left at the Spaniard, Pospisil did not have an answer for Bautista Agut’s consistency. The Spaniard broke again as the Canadian serve to stay alive, clinching the first point for the home team.
Canada will play Serbia on Saturday at 4:00 pm in Valencia, 10:00 am EDT, with a chance to book their place in November’s knockout stage.