Canada set to begin Davis Cup title defence against group stage hosts Italy

Team Canada celebrates with the trophy after winning the Davis Cup tennis final in Malaga, Spain, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. (AP)

The mood entering the Davis Cup is different this time around for Canada.

Canada begins its title defence on Wednesday in Bologna, Italy, with a tie against the host Italians in Group A action. Canada’s 2022 championship — clinched by a 2-0 win over Australia in Malaga, Spain — was its first in the event since 1913.

“Yeah, I mean, so many memories,” Denis Shapovalov said at a press conference Monday. “Bringing back of a lot of good feelings that I’m back part of the team and yeah, it was just a super special feeling last year.

“We did it for Canada. So now I feel like this year, it’s kind of like nothing to lose. We have no chip on our shoulder and we can just go out there and enjoy ourselves.”

Team captain Frank Dancevic echoed a similar statement.

“I think actually we’re very relaxed,” he said. “You know how difficult it is to win the Davis Cup and we have to overcome many obstacles to win it and the stars have to align in a way.

“I know one thing — we’re a great team. We always put up a great fight against any team we’re playing and we always put ourselves in the position to win matches and to win ties no matter what the score is.”

Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., will be representing top-ranked Canada for the ninth time in his career after pulling out of the U.S. Open due to a knee injury. The 24-year-old has a 14-9 record since making his Davis Cup debut in 2016.

Joining him on the four-man squad will be Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C., Montreal’s Gabriel Diallo and Alexis Galarneau of Laval, Que.

Diallo, 21, and Galarneau, 24, served as substitutes on last year’s team.

The glaring difference, however, will be world No. 14 Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal missing from the team this year.

Canada is set to face Sweden on Thursday before wrapping up the group stage against Chile on Saturday.

The top two teams from each of the four groups will advance to the knockout stage, which will take place Nov. 21-26 in Malaga and where the champion will be crowned.

Diallo called the pressure of performing at the tournament “unique.”

“In Davis Cup you’re exposed to more emotions than when you’re playing on tour for yourself,” he said. “I’ve been involved in team events like playing in college, but I think the pressure that you have in Davis Cup representing your country is unique.

“I think it (being involved in 2022) helped me a lot to manage my emotions throughout matches, but also throughout the preparation and just trying to get in the zone and get ready to do anything on my part.”

Having called last year’s win a “big relief,” the 33-year-old Pospisil thinks of the Davis Cup as a “nice little break” from the usual schedule.

“Yeah, I mean, playing for your country is a totally different kind of feeling than playing for yourself,” he said. “I mean, also selfishly, I have a lot of fun. I mean, it’s a really fun week.

“It’s like the best of both worlds in the sense … it just means a lot more to (play) for your country and it’s the biggest event that we have in tennis.”

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