Photo : Manuel Queimadelos / Quality Sport Images / Kosmos Tennis
Hopefully Team Canada presented by Sobeys likes the Spanish climate, because they are going to get another dose of it in November in Malaga.
Félix Auger-Aliassime sent the Canadians into the knockout stage of the Davis Cup Finals with a straight-set win over Serbia’s Miomir Kecmanovic on Saturday in the final tie of the group stage.
Canada actually lost the tie to Serbia 2-1 after Vasek Pospisil was forced to retire during the deciding doubles match, playing alongside Alexis Galarneau, but Auger-Aliassime’s victory had already assured Canada’s place in the knockout stage regardless of an overall defeat. Team Canada finishes the group stage with a 2-1 record.
All four members of the Canadian team participated in the tie on Saturday.
With the nation on his back, Auger-Aliassime rose to the occasion, playing a nearly perfect match against an opponent he had never previously won a set against. The result never looked in doubt as the Canadian No. 1 put on a clinic of offensive tennis to claim a 6-3, 6-4 win and the final point Canada needed to guarantee a top-two finish in Group B.
It is hard to serve much better than Auger-Aliassime over the last two day. On Saturday, the Canadian dropped 14 aces without a double fault and only lost nine total points on his serve, winning 91 per cent of his serve points.
On the ground he was just as strong, ripping 35 winners to Kecmanovic’s six. He also committed just 14 unforced errors, less than half his winner count.
After his opening-day loss to Soonwoo Kwon where he was broken three times, he did not drop serve again in either of his remaining singles matches, including a three-set win over world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz on Friday.
There were no signs of exhaustion from Auger-Aliassime to start the match with Kecmanovic despite the Canadian having pulled double duty on Friday day, finishing his doubles match well after midnight. In the fourth game, some aggressive hitting from Auger-Aliassime drew four straight errors for a break to love and the early lead.
Only once in the match did Auger-Aliassime face much of a threat on serve. In the seventh game serving up 4-2, back-to-back errors from the Canadian gave Kecmanovic a double-break-point opportunity, but a pair of smart net attacks erased the danger.
Kecmanovic would not win more than one point in an Auger-Aliassime service game for the rest of the match.
Auger-Aliassime was cruising as he wrapped up the opening set and then continued holding serve easily in the second.
At 3-all, he made his move, using his big hitting to create a break opportunity. After failing to convert the first break point, a generous net cord gave him a second look and he made no mistake pounding Kecmanovic before crushing a swinging forehand volley to move ahead in the second.
At that point, the result seemed inevitable. Need just two holds to send Canada to Malaga, Auger-Aliassime won eight of the next nine points on serve to clinch the win, sealing it with an ace.
Canada’s chances to qualify for the knockout stage looked a little bit shaky earlier in the day after Gabriel Diallo was defeated in the opening singles match by Laslo Djere in straight sets, a difficult Davis Cup debut for the 20-year-old Canadian.
In his first match as a member of Team Canada, Diallo fell behind an early break in each set was never able to recover as he was beaten 6-2, 6-2.
The Canadian struggled under the constant pressure from Djere, committed 22 unforced errors and 3 double faults. He only managed to win 54 per cent of his total service points, while his Serbian opponent took 81 per cent of his first serve points.
Ill-timed errors cost Diallo dearly in the opening set. In both the third and fifth game, unforced errors put him in 15-40 holes on his own serve followed by double faults to give away a pair of breaks.
While the Canadian managed to scrape together some points on return, getting to 30 twice, he was unable to generate any break points in the opening set which he lost in just over half an hour.
Diallo quickly put the opening set behind him, creating his first three break points of the match in the second game of the second set, although he was unable to convert. The Canadian paid the price in the following game when he went down love-40 and sent a backhand long on the third break point to fall behind.
In the end, the second set was a mirror image of the first, with Diallo holding serve to start, getting broken twice as he lost five games in a row, holding for 2-5 only for Djere to serve out the set.
Even having lost the tie, Canada is assured of finishing in the top two in Group B and clinches a spot in the knockout stage as a result, which will take place Nov. 22-27 in Malaga, Spain.