Epic singles wins give Canada best Davis Cup Finals start imaginable

Denis Shapovalov clinched an opening-day victory for Canada on Monday at the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid and Vasek Pospisil beat Fabio Fognini, No. 12 in the ATP Rankings, 7-6(5), 7-5 earlier Monday.

It was the best start imaginable.

Canada began the 2019 Davis Cup Finals with a pair of upset singles wins over Italy which included a classic on the opening day of competition.

It took Denis Shapovalov just under three hours to dispatch of Italy’s Matteo Berrettini in a match which featured a tiebreak in each set.

Watch Canada take on Rafael Nadal and Spain in the final of the Davis Cup on Sunday, Nov. 24 on SN Now and SN One. Action gets underway at 10:30 a.m. ET/7:30 a.m. PT.

The Canadian has been on a roll of late which includes recently winning his first ATP Tour title and Monday’s victory was another highlight.

“It’s just another massive win for me and I think it’s so big for my confidence,” he told Sportsnet’s Arash Madani after his 7-6 (5), 6-7 (3), 7-6 (5) victory.

It was the first meeting between the two countries at the Davis Cup since 2013 when Canada beat the Italians to advance into the semifinals to equal its best tournament result.

Canada’s day didn’t start with good news.

Shortly before the match, it was learned that young star Felix Auger-Aliassime would miss the first day of action due to an ankle injury.

And while they hope to get him back Tuesday against the U.S., if not later in the week, it forced 29-year-old Vasek Pospisil to step up for the first singles rubber.

In what was the third meeting between him and No. 12 Fabio Fognini — the Canadian beat him in 2015 at Wimbledon — it was Pospisil who came out on top again, taking the match 7-6 (5), 7-5.

The day capped off with Berrettini and Fognini beating Shapovalov and Pospisil 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in what could be a crucial doubles result.

Canada is atop Group F with a 2-1 record.

Here’s some other takeaways from the matches:

Shapo doesn’t back down

An epic matchup took place between No. 15 Shapovalov and No. 8 Berrettini with both players dominating on the service game.

Shapovalov used the adversity of a mostly Italian crowd to his advantage as he started to get fired up late in the match. He threw his hands up midway through the third set in an attempt to get the crowd going and even pointed to his ear after an ace as a sign of “bring it on.”

In an interview with Madani afterwards, he admits it may not have been the smartest move to “piss off the crowd,” but said he was just having fun. The energy can only be something organizers thought of when they planned out the tournament’s new format.

The Richmond Hill, Ont., native failed to break his opponent early in the match with six unsuccessful first-set attempts.

Berrettini, who had a 1-2 record at last week’s ATP Tour Finals, is one of the top servers on the ATP Tour and it showed as he fired off 15 aces throughout.

A great example of Shapovalov being resilient was in the first set when he saved three set points after a pair of double faults. He racked 13 double faults throughout the match.

Neither player had great first serves in the opening set with Shapovalov at 57 per cent and Berrettini at 67 per cent, but it was Shapovalov that was able to do a good job at getting the serve back into play with 83 per cent of first serves won.

It was a lot of the same in the second set with service games being a big factor. Each player was playing some elite tennis and making difficult shots.

Shapovalov continued to work hard and it eventually paid off in the third set tiebreak. Despite a double fault, Berrettini had an error of his own and gave it right back. The Canadian used three-straight strong serves to take the match before being mobbed by teammates.

“A little bit of luck on my side today,” Shapovalov said.

Pospisil’s serve makes difference

Pospisil said before the match that he wanted to be aggressive.

It showed early, especially in the service game, as he took the first set with six aces while earning 77 per cent of first-serve points.

Pospisil had his most important point — arguably in the match — in the 11th game of the first set when he rallied from down 0-40 to hold serve. He told Madani afterwards that he felt like he was rushing and needed to slow down the pace.

It was a good indication of the type of tennis he’s been playing lately and a sign he’s better than his No. 150 ranking.

The Canadian attacked Fognini’s serve in the tiebreak and it led to a first set victory 7-6 (5).

Pospisil’s strong play started to rattle Fognini as he began to toss his racket in the air and appearing uninterested during breaks and visits from his coach.

It wasn’t until the 11th game of the second, tied 5-5, that the Vancouver native got the advantage. Going up 0-40 with a collection of nice volleys, he eventually broke his opponent on a third break point.

A pair of consecutive aces helped the Canadian serve out the second set and take the match in one hour 48 minutes.

Chemistry slowly builds with Shapo/Pospisil

Shapovalov and Pospisil had never played doubles together up until these Davis Cup Finals and a few hiccups early on against Fognini and Berrettini showed why.

Doubles play, which will be used as a tiebreaker in groups, is a key which is why Shapovalov went back on the court just 30 minutes after his singles win.

Italy dominated the first set and the Canadian duo had a slew of unforced errors, possibly a sign of fatigue after a long day.

Shapovalov and Pospisil stole some points in the second set and found their groove, breaking the Italians to go ahead 5-3. It proved to be key as Canada went on to take the set.

It was a reserve break in the third set as Italy went up 5-3 and served out the match.

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