Despite Davis Cup loss, Canada proves it belongs with the sport’s best

With Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov on the rise, and Vasek Pospisil fighting to crack the top 25, Canadian tennis has a bright future after losing to Spain in the Davis Cup final.

Denis Shapovalov wouldn’t go down without a fight.

Playing the top tennis player in the world in No. 1 Rafael Nadal, the Canadian fought — point after point — to stay alive.

Whether it was the home crowd or high emotions, there was nothing that would deny Spain of a sixth Davis Cup title on Sunday. Propelled by singles victories by Roberto Bautista-Agut and Nadal, the Spaniards defeated Canada 2-0 to win the top prize in international men’s tennis.

"It’s tough getting so close and losing, but they put an amazing effort in," Canadian captain Frank Dancevic told Sportsnet’s Arash Madani.

"It’s an unbelievable accomplishment for us to be here, to get so close, and as sad as it is losing today, it’s also a little bit of a celebration for us never being here before."

Making the final was Canada’s best-ever finish at the tournament. Only twice before, in 2013 and 1913, had they reached the semifinal of the tournament.

But their opponent was just too good in this one.

Ranked No. 5 in the world, Spain started the day with Bautista-Agut downing Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6 (3), 6-3 just three days after the death of his father. Bautista-Agut had left the team, but returned to play in the final.

He pointed his right index finger to the sky after beating the 19-year-old Canadian and cried as cheers from the crowd at the Caja Magica in Madrid rang through.

“It was very special," Bautista-Agut said in an on-court interview. "Very special feeling on the court today."

Nadal dedicated a speech after the quarterfinals to Bautista-Agut and went on to beat Shapovalov 6-3, 7-6 (7) on Sunday.

The loss to Spain ended what was an incredible year in Canadian tennis; one where Bianca Andreescu, a 19-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., became the first person in the country’s history to win a Grand Slam singles title at the U.S. Open. Not to mention her victory at the hometown Rogers Cup — both wins over none other than Serena Williams.

Canada’s run at the Davis Cup, despite the result, was almost like a cherry on top, solidifying the nation’s ability to compete at sports’ highest level.

It started with an upset win over Italy on Monday after No. 150 Vasek Pospisil, subbing in for Auger-Aliassime and his injured ankle, earned a win over No. 12 Fabio Fognini.

Pospisil was the story for the Canadians all week, coming up clutch in both singles and doubles when his country needed him the most. Against Australia in the quarterfinals, he launched three aces to close out the doubles match. It continued in the semifinals against Russia, when he wasn’t fazed by a singles loss — his first of the week — by bouncing back in doubles and securing Canada’s place in the final.

Shapovalov was equally as impressive. Singles wins in the round robin over Italy and the U.S. helped guide his team to the quarterfinals. He then lost to Australia’s Alex de Minaur, but was solid in the semifinals singles rubber against Russia’s Karen Khachanov.

He was no match for Nadal on Sunday, however, in the third meeting between the two.

Canada will be back again after securing a place at next year’s Davis Cup Finals with their top-four finish. With Shapovalov only being 20 years old and Auger-Aliassime, 19, there’s much more amazing international tennis left.

"We’ve got a fantastic future ahead of us," Dancevic said.

Here are some more takeaways from the matches:

Shapovalov doesn’t back down

It may show as a straight-set win, but it was anything but easy for Nadal.

Shapovalov held off two match points before finally succumbing to Nadal’s third opportunity.

Every time Shapovalov appeared to put it somewhere his opponent wasn’t, Nadal would get there. There’s a reason why he’s the best in the world, after all, and now 29-1 in Davis Cup singles play.

The Richmond Hill, Ont., native fended off two break opportunities by Nadal in the first set and another three in the second, but it still wasn’t enough.

It was a classic match as both players sprawled across the court making incredible shots. Frustration showed later in the second set when Shapovalov tossed his racket towards his bag.

But he wouldn’t stop until his final shot of the day landed in the net and gave the Spaniard a win.

Bautista-Agut’s experience shows

Whether he was playing with added emotion or just that much more seasoned, Bautista-Agut also wouldn’t back down.

Nothing was more telling than in the second set when he faced countless tough returns from his 19-year-old opponent, but seemed to reach every single one after dashes across the court to reach them.

Auger-Aliassime hadn’t played a match since Oct. 9 at the Shanghai Masters and replaced a tired Pospisil, who had been grinding all week.

It wouldn’t have made a difference who played in this one as the Spaniard’s returns were just too good.

He finished the match with only six winners — Auger-Aliassime had 22 — but seemed to use adversity to his advantage.

After the two traded breaks, it was Bautista-Agut who bounced back with a cross-court backhand to gain a 0-40 advantage by attacking the Canadians’ backhand and earned his second break of the set.

Two-straight returns wide on serve hurt him in the first set tiebreak while five double faults and 25 unforced errors in the second set were too much for him to come back from.

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