Rising tennis stars Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime have shown they’re ready for the big stage. Their next big challenge will be to lead the Canadian entry at the Davis Cup Finals.
With Milos Raonic out with a back injury, Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime — both now top-25 players — will likely be tabbed for singles play at the Nov. 18-24 competition in Madrid. Vasek Pospisil, a Wimbledon doubles champion in 2014, is a good bet for four-man play.
"These are all guys that can beat top players," said captain Frank Dancevic. "That’s the key when you’re playing Davis Cup. They have that level that they can win the big matches."
Canada, ranked No. 14, will face No. 10 Italy on Monday and the sixth-ranked United States on Tuesday in Group F play at La Caja Magica. The winners of the six groups and the next two best teams will advance to the quarterfinals.
France leads the 18-team field at the indoor hardcourt tournament, which is using a new format this year. Defending champion Croatia is ranked second and Argentina is third.
Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, Ont., is the highest-ranked Canadian in singles (No. 15) and doubles (No. 49). Montreal’s Auger-Aliassime is 21st in singles while Pospisil, from Vancouver, has impressed since his return from a six-month break after back surgery last January.
"I think we’ve got such a great variety of players," Shapovalov said in a recent interview from Athens. "I think if we just match up the players correctly I think we can go really deep."
The roster is rounded out by Brayden Schnur of Pickering, Ont., a replacement for the 31st-ranked Raonic. Schnur has climbed 100 spots in the rankings this year and is currently at No. 94.
Canada qualified for the event by topping Slovakia 3-2 last February. Shapovalov won both of his singles matches and Auger-Aliassime took the decisive match.
"The young guys have had some exposure to Davis Cup already for a couple years," Dancevic said this week from Serbia. "So I think we’re in a good position. Anything can happen. If we get hot and have a little luck on our side, we can go deep in the tournament."
Frederic Fontang will serve as Canadian team coach and Daniel Nestor, who retired last year, is the doubles coach.
Daily sessions will include two singles and one doubles match. Knockout rounds will begin Friday.
Shapovalov, 20, has enjoyed a strong run of form of late, winning his first career ATP Tour title last month in Stockholm. He beat top-15 players Alex Zverev, Fabio Fognini and Gael Monfils at the recent Paris Masters before falling to Novak Djokovic in the final.
Auger-Aliassime, 19, rose to a career-high No. 17 in the singles rankings last month. He has reached ATP finals in Rio, Lyon and Stuttgart this season.
"They’re young but they’ve already had some big matches under their belt," Dancevic said. "They’ve played against top players and they’ve beaten top players.
"They’re not intimidated by the stage (or by) who they play. They’re ready to go and fight."
A former world No. 4 in doubles and world No. 25 in singles, Pospisil is currently ranked No. 447 in doubles and No. 149 in singles.
The Italian team is led by world No. 8 Matteo Berrettini and the 12th-ranked Fognini. At No. 81, Simone Bolelli is the highest-ranked doubles player on the roster, which is rounded out by Lorenzo Sonego and Andrea Seppi.
"It’s going to come down to one or two games and lots of pressure situations in these matches," Dancevic said. "It’s just a matter of sticking with it and getting through those tough situations and having a little luck on your side."
The Americans boast four top-50 players in No. 32 Taylor Fritz, No. 33 Reilly Opelka, No. 44 Sam Querrey and No. 47 Frances Tiafoe.
Jack Sock, a world No. 119 in doubles, is also on the team. Sock teamed with Pospisil to win the Wimbledon doubles title five years ago.