No Felix. No Milos. Yet Canada is cruising at the Davis Cup Finals.
The Canadians punched their ticket to the event’s quarterfinals after a pair of singles victories by Vasek Pospisil and Denis Shapovalov over the United States on Tuesday.
Canada won Group F with the victories and will face the winner of Group D — either Belgium or Australia — on Thursday.
Shapovalov said it’s an unbelievable feeling.
“I knew going in that we have a really strong team,” he told Sportsnet’s Arash Madani after his win. “Honestly, I’m just really excited and hopefully we can take this really far.”
It’s Canada’s first time at the event’s quarterfinals since 2015 when they fell to Belgium. The best finish for Canada at the event was reaching the semifinals in 2013 before eventually losing to Serbia.
The Canadians have been forced to play without No. 31 Milos Raonic after he withdrew from the competition with a back injury a week before the event. Felix Auger-Aliassime, a 19-year-old ranked No. 21, is in Madrid, but has yet to play due to an ankle injury.
Pospisil has stepped up in Auger-Aliassime’s place to play brilliant tennis. On Tuesday, he needed a pair of tiebreaks to beat Reilly Opelka 7-6 (5), 7-6 (7). In the second singles rubber, Shapovalov downed Taylor Fritz 7-6 (6), 6-3.
Canadian captain Frank Dancevic gave a walkover in the doubles match after he was dealt with another injury setback. Brayden Schnur, who had yet to compete this week, was injured in practice earlier Tuesday while Pospisil was too tired.
It was Canada’s first-ever tie victory over the U.S. to bring its all-time record to 1-15. The U.S., winners of 32 Davis Cups overall, hadn’t faced Canada since 1965.
But this is a different era of tennis, one where Canadian youth is serving notice, even while short-handed.
Here are some takeaways from Tuesday’s rubbers:
Fatigue doesn’t impact Pospisil
That’s how much sleep Pospisil got after playing five sets of tennis on Day 1 of the Davis Cup Finals against Italy.
He still came out against one of the top servers in the world in No. 36 Opelka and waited for his chances, which eventually paid off.
The 29-year-old from Vancouver fought back from three break points to hold serve in the fifth game of the first set and continued to wear down Opelka’s serve while up 6-5. In total, the American had 13 unforced errors in the first set, but just when there was some momentum for Pospisil, his opponent would smash an ace.
Opelka had a trio of misses in the tiebreak, including two with serve, to help Pospisil take the first set.
Some evidence of that tiredness came out when Pospisil’s returns would land in the net, but he carried on and said afterwards he was trying to save energy for important moments.
Pospisil also had to stay positive as his six-foot-11 opponent continuously fired aces past him – 16 in the match – which was no surprise as he averages the second-most aces per match (21.1) on the ATP Tour.
The second set made its way to another tiebreak where the Canadian was able to handcuff Opelka with strong returns and force him to make errors. Eventually, on second match point, Opelka’s return went wide.
Pospisil credited the crowd for helping him battle fatigue.
“Just had to be smart out there today,” he told Madani.
Shapovalov overcome sloppiness
Shapovalov had a strong first game of the first set where he broke No. 32 Fritz, but it was a challenge afterwards.
Fritz arguably was the better player in the first set as his Canadian opponent had 16 unforced errors and a handful of double faults. Shapovalov only had 56 per cent of his first serves fall in.
Despite the struggles, the Richmond Hill, Ont., native’s forehand was strong and he hit some impressive cross-court winners.
The first set went to a tiebreak, where once again Shapovalov had to fight back. The set came to a weird finish as Shapovalov thought his final serve was out and lined up for a second serve. Fritz thought otherwise and challenged call to which a review showed it was in and Shapovalov was awarded an ace.
A breather in between sets proved key for the 20-year-old Canadian as he started to find his groove in the second. Some nice backhand shots helped him break Fritz and gain an early 2-0 advantage.
Shapovalov’s shot selection only improved from there as he made his opponent run around the court chasing balls. The pair would hold serves before Shapovalov served out to win the match.
He was flooded by hugs from teammates after the match as they jumped up and down together in celebration.