Photo : Martin Sidorjak
Team Canada presented by Sobeys will have to try again in 2024 to reunify the team titles.
The defending champions were knockout out of the Davis Cup in the quarter-finals on Tuesday by Finland, dropping the tie 2-1 to bring an end to their title defence.
Milos Raonic got the Canadians off to a quick start with an impressive win in the opening match, but from there the underdog Finns took over, keeping their foot on the gas to rally for wins in the second singles over Gabriel Diallo and in the doubles against Alexis Galarneau and Vasek Pospisil to complete their comeback.
Canada had won six consecutive ties in the Davis Cup and eight of their last nine, the lone loss coming in the 2022 Group Stage.
After splitting the singles, it all came down to the doubles match between Galarneau and Pospisil and the Finnish tandem of Harri Heliovaara and Otto Virtanen, who had beaten Diallo in the second singles match.
While the Canadians had their chances, the Finns were ruthless and kept them under constant pressure, earning themselves a 7-5, 6-3 victory and a ticket to the semifinals.
The opening set was full of momentum swings. First, the Canadians had chances to break in each of their first two return games but both times the Finns erased the break points with big serves. They then responded by breaking Pospisil for a 3-1 lead.
Canada wasted little time fighting back, creating three break points in the seventh game and Virtanen missed a volley on the third to put the set back on serve.
It seemed as though Pospisil was having some difficulty with his shoulder and he fell behind again on his serve, going down love-40 as he attempted to level the set. However, he pulled out four straight unreturnable serves on his way to holding for 4-4.
Just before he served to stay in the set at 5-6, Pospisil had a medical timeout to see his shoulder attended to. In the following game, he escaped one set point when Heliovaara missed a return, but the Finns got a second look and this time Pospisil missed a half-volley to surrender the set.
Finland looked to take a stranglehold on the match when they held six break points on Galarneau’s serve in the second game of the second set, but the Canadians stood tough to hang in there.
In the fifth game, they had a break point only for Virtanen to his three straight aces.
Finally at 3-4, the Canadians cracked for good as Pospisil missed a half-volley to set up a break point and Virtanen ripped a huge forehand to take a 5-3 lead. The Finns promptly served out the tie.
It was the first loss in a completed doubles match for Canada at the Davis Cup since the 2022 qualifying round against the Netherlands and the first doubles loss for Pospisil in the competition since the 2021 Finals in Madrid.
Pospisil had not lost a live doubles rubber at the Davis Cup since 2018.
Raonic a Bright Spot in Return
Raonic looked like he had hardly missed a beat since his last appearance at the Davis Cup as he delivered a classic performance on Tuesday to give Team Canada presented by Sobeys the lead in their quarter-final against Finland.
Representing his country for the first time since 2018, the missile from Thornhill was on peak form as he fired 18 aces and lost a mere three points on serve in the entire match with Finland’s Patrick Kaukovalta. On multiple occasions, he held serve without his opponent getting the ball back in play.
It was also a strong return performance from the big man, winning 50 per cent of his opponent’s second serve points and playing smart situational tennis, breaking late in both sets for a 6-3, 7-5 win.
Now Canada needs just one more victory to advance to the semifinals of the Davis Cup for the second time in Raonic’s career.
Raonic looked like his old self to start the match, opening up with four aces to hold to love. He had five total aces to start the match on serve and won his first nine with unreturned serves before Kaukovalta got a return back.
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The first time the Finn got a return in play, he won the point. It was one of the only times he returned the Canadian’s serve in the opening set and was the only return point he won.
In the sixth game, Raonic’s defence set up a couple of break points but he missed back-to-back forehands. In his next return game, a perfect return into the feet of the approaching Kaukovalta set up two more break points and this time the Finn sent a forehand long to surrender the break. With the way Raonic serving, that was essentially the set.
Early in the second, the Canadian had a chance to all but seal the match with a break point in the third game, but he fired a forehand wide.
Still, Raonic continued to cruise through his service games with ease and kept applying pressure on the Finn’s serve.
At 5-5, a Raonic passing shot clipped the netcord and took a Canadian bounce, dropping in for a winner to set up another break point. This time, Kaukovalta missed his volley to effectively ice the match, which Raonic served out with ease.
Finland Claws Back
Diallo reprised his role as the Canadian No. 1 where he shined in Bologna during the group stage, but he struggled to replicate his success as Otto Virtanen proved too much in the second singles match.
The big-serving Finn kept Diallo on the defensive from the start and converted his chances to level the tie with a 6-4, 7-5 win.
Statistically, there was very little between the two. Virtanen just served a bit better, winning 85 per cent of his first serve points. The Finn also had a few more looks on return, converting two of his five break point chances while Diallo only had one break point in the match.
A slow start proved costly for Diallo, as he was broken in the third game and was never able to recover.
The Canadian had a look to break back in the following game, but Virtanen ripped a forehand winner to erase the only break point he was to face in the opening set as he hung on to that lone break.
There was little between the two men for much of the second set as both applied pressure to the other’s serve, but neither was able to get close to a break.
At 4-4, Diallo found himself in trouble facing break points for the first time in the set, but Virtanen bailed him out by netting forehands both times. But two games later, the Canadian went down 15-40 and this time, he missed a backhand on the second break point to drop serve, which ultimately decided the match.