Photo : @ATPCup
What seemed impossible earlier in the week has become a reality: Canada is through to the ATP Cup final.
Team Canada, led by Denis Shapovalov and Félix Auger-Aliassime, upset the defending champions Russia 2-1 in a dramatic semi-final on Saturday in Sydney.
Shapovalov played hero, scoring a gritty singles victory over Roman Safiullin before teaming up with Auger-Aliassime to best Safiullin and Daniil Medvedev, who had beaten Auger-Aliassime in the second singles match, in a thrilling doubles rubber to send Canada into their first final at the ATP Cup.
They will now look for revenge as they take on Spain in the ATP Cup final, the same team who beat Canada in their only previous team competition final at the 2019 Davis Cup. At that event, Canada also beat Russia in the semi-finals, with Shapovalov winning a singles and doubles match, clinching the win in a tiebreak.
Canada’s ATP Cup got off to a slow start earlier this week, as they lost their first four matches of the group stage, including a sweep in their opening tie with the United States, before rallying to win five of the next six to beat the United Kingdom and Germany to reach the semi-finals.
Looking for a quick start to the semi-final tie, Shapovalov came out strong in the opening match, holding five break points in his first two return games and converted one to grab an early lead which, despite Safiullin picking up his game, was all the Canadian needed to take the opening set.
Safiullin has been one of the surprises of the ATP Cup and kept his high level up, refusing to let Shapovalov pull away with the match and matching the world No. 14 shot-for-shot through the high-quality affair.
A lull from Shapovalov starting late in the second set put the match in doubt, when he was broken at 5-6 by missing a routine smash to drop the set. He then had to face six break points in the fourth game of the third set but managed to hang on.
That hold was critical, which Shapovalov acknowledged in his post-match interview, as he quickly bounced back by upping his level and eventually breaking serve for a 4-3 lead. When serving for the match, he closed out the 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 win with a hold to love.
Shapovalov finished the match with a massive 46 winners, including 13 aces, to just 19 unforced errors.
Auger-Aliassime had a chance to book Canada’s place in the final in the second singles match, but the Medvedev ultimately played a near flawless match to force a deciding doubles rubber.
The match was tight through seven games, with Auger-Aliassime looking comfortable in the rallies and serving brilliantly, holding to take a 4-3 lead. But from there it was all Medvedev, who won nine straight games, every game for the rest of the match, to level the tie at 1-apiece with a 6-4, 6-0 win.
The world No. 2 only committed six unforced errors in the match and did not face a break point. He benefitted from 13 unforced errors from Auger-Aliassime, while the men were even with 22 winners.
In the doubles, Canada was made to pay for missing a pair of break points in Medvedev’s first service game when Auger-Aliassime was broken as the Russians took a 2-1 lead. Despite an impressive hold by the Montrealer from love-40 down in his next service game, the Canadians were unable to capitalize on their break chances and dropped the opening set.
As the second set progressed, the Canadians settled in and started to gain control of the match. Finally, as Safiullin served to send the set to a tiebreak, they broke through, converting their fourth break point of the game to send the match, and the entire semi, to a match tiebreak.
With a spot in the final on the line, the Canadians played a near-perfect tiebreak, making their first seven first serves and grabbing three minibreaks to take a 9-5 lead. On their third match point, Shapovalov hit an incredible stab volley for a winner to book Canada’s spot in the final.
Canada will face a slightly different Spanish squad than the one they met at the Davis Cup in 2019. There will be no Rafael Nadal this time. Instead, the expected matchups will see Shapovalov trying to overcome a 1-4 head-to-head against Pablo Carreno Busta, while Auger-Aliassime goes for a third straight win over Roberto Bautista Agut, whose lone win over the Canadian came in that Davis Cup final.
The final will be played at 5:30 pm local Sunday evening in Sydney, 1:30 am EST in Canada.