MADRID — World No. 1 Rafael Nadal defeated Denis Shapovalov 6-3, 7-6 (7) on Sunday to give Spain its sixth Davis Cup title and deny Canada its first.
Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., fended off a pair of championship points in the second-set tiebreak before Nadal could seal the win.
"In the second, I felt like I was the better player most of the games," Shapovalov said. "There were lots of long games. I was in most of his service games, and he did a really good job of staying in it. He recovered really well after having two match points and me coming back."
The No. 15-ranked Shapovalov — Canada’s top singles player — was competing in a must-win match after Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime dropped the opening rubber of the best-of-three to Roberto Bautista Agut.
Auger-Aliassime, who wasn’t cleared to play for Canada at the Davis Cup until Thursday’s quarterfinals, was playing his first match of the tournament.
He remained on Canada’s bench temporarily while Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil — the Davis Cup veteran on the team at 29 years old — rode a wave of momentum that included upset singles wins over three higher-ranked opponents throughout the week.
"I was staying fit and ready as any individual on this team would do I went out and gave it everything," said Auger-Aliassime. "I did everything to try and bring a point and I couldn’t. It’s disappointing but at the same time I’ll take the experience and move forward with it."
Pospisil woke up Sunday aware he wasn’t going to be hitting the court.
"I found out late last night," said Pospisil. "The reaction is of course… it’s tough, everybody wants to play. It was double tough that we lost today. At the end of the day we had a full team capable of playing high-level tennis and it’s a team effort. You just have to be ready to do your part."
Nadal was untouchable this week, going 8-0 while facing just three break points throughout the Davis Cup Finals — including one from Shapovalov in the second set. He improved to a staggering 29-1 in singles matches in his Davis Cup career.
The Canadian team was competing in the final at a Davis Cup for the first time. Canada first appeared in the international team tournament in 1913.
"I feel like we’ve really come really far as a team, as a nation," Shapovalov said. "Definitely we’re super proud. Obviously it sucks, sucks losing in the finals. But I’m super proud of everyone. We’ve put in 120 per cent every single day. It’s amazing how far we’ve been able to come."
Spain, playing in its 10th final, earned its first title since 2011.
Shapovolav had 27 winners to Nadal’s 24 over the nearly two-hour long match. But the Canadian also made 36 unforced errors to Nadal’s 20.
The 20-year-old Shapovalov was the only Canadian player to have beaten Nadal in a previous match. He stunned the Spaniard in their first career meeting at the Rogers Cup in 2017 — Shapovalov’s breakout season on the ATP Tour. 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 abdominal injury, allowing Shapovalov to reach the finals of a Masters 1000 for the first time.
Bautista Agut delivered the first blow to Canada’s hopes of capturing its first Davis Cup title when the 31-year-old veteran defeated Auger-Aliassime 7-6 (3), 6-3 earlier Sunday.
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 19-year-old began the year ranked outside the top 100, but made the finals at three ATP tournaments (Stuttgart, Lyon and Rio) to reach a career-high No. 17. He was 33-22 on tour this season.
Canada captain Frank Dancevic wouldn’t provide further details on why he chose Auger-Aliassime on Sunday instead of Pospisil for singles action.
"I’d rather not go into details with it. It was my call in the end to do the substitution today. Just leave it at that," said Dancevic.
The Canadian team was missing No. 31 Milos Raonic to injury. Brayden Schnur replaced Raonic on the roster but stayed on Canada’s bench after pulling a back muscle this week.
That left Pospisil, ranked No. 150, and Shapovalov to play each of Canada’s singles and doubles matches at this Davis Cup before Sunday. The pair would have teamed up again for the deciding doubles match, if needed.
Canada had 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.
Canada had not beaten the U.S. or Australia at a Davis Cup until this tournament.
Canada guaranteed its spot in the Davis Cup Finals tournament in 2020 by reaching the semifinals this year. Spain, Britain and Russia also finished top four to secure entries while France and Serbia were granted wild-card entries. The rest of the field will be filled through qualifiers.
Colombian singer Shakira performed before the final at centre court, and Spanish King Felipe VI was among those watching Sunday’s matches.
The new Davis Cup Finals is the result of a 25-year partnership between the International Tennis Federation and the Kosmos group co-founded by Barcelona star Gerard Pique, Shakira’s husband. The new event was created to make the team competition more attractive and lucrative.