MADRID — Roberto Bautista Agut delivered a big blow to Canada’s hopes of capturing its first Davis Cup title.
The 31-year-old veteran defeated Montreal teenager Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6 (3), 6-3 on Sunday to give Spain a 1-0 lead over Canada in the best-of-three final.
Bautista Agut, ranked No. 9 in the world, was playing his first match since the death of his father earlier this week. He left Spain’s Davis Cup team on Thursday but returned in time for the final.
The No. 21-ranked Auger-Aliassime, who missed six weeks of action with an ankle injury, was playing for the first time since the opening round of the Shanghai Masters in early October.
The Canadians team is competing in the final at a Davis Cup for the first time. Canada first appeared in the international team tournament in 1913.
Spain, a five-time Davis Cup champion, is playing in its 10th final.
Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., played world No. 1 Rafael Nadal later Sunday in the second singles rubber.
Auger-Aliassime was down 0-3 in the second set before breaking his opponent to narrow the deficit, but Bautista Agut broke back for a 4-2 lead in front of a pro-Spanish crowd, save for a couple hundred Canadian fans, at Madrid’s Caja Magica.
Bautista Agut and Auger-Aliassime held serve throughout an evenly-matched first set, but the Spaniard earned a pair of mini breaks in the tiebreak to get the upper hand.
The 19-year-old Auger-Aliassime missed the Next Gen ATP Finals earlier this month with his ankle injury and wasn’t cleared to play for Canada at the Davis Cup until Thursday’s quarterfinals.
But he remained on Canada’s bench for two extra days with Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil — the Davis Cup veteran on the team at 29 years old — riding a wave of momentum that included upset wins over three higher-ranked opponents throughout the week.
Pospisil, ranked No. 150, and Shapovalov (No. 15) had played each of Canada’s singles and doubles matches at this Davis Cup before Sunday.
Auger-Aliassime, who began the year ranked outside the top 100, made the finals at three ATP tournaments this year (Stuttgart, Lyon and Rio), reaching a career-high No. 17 in the process. He was 33-22 on tour this season.
Auger-Aliassime had never played Bautista Agut before Sunday.
The second rubber between Shapovalov and Nadal was a must-win for the Canadians.
The 20-year-old Shapovalov stunningly defeated Nadal in the round of 16 at the Rogers Cup in 2017 — his breakout season on Tour — in their first career meeting. Nadal took the next matchup last year at the Rome Masters.
The two were scheduled to meet in the semifinals at Paris earlier this month but Nadal withdrew with an oblique injury, allowing Shapovalov to reach the finals of a Masters 1000 for the first time.
Canada has been on a tear throughout the week at the Davis Cup Finals.
They defeated Italy and the United States in the group stage before dispatching Australia in the quarterfinals on Thursday. They then earned their spot in their first final with a thrilling 2-1 win over Russia Saturday that included a third-set tiebreak in a deciding doubles match, prompting a congratulatory tweet from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.