Photo : Martin Sidorjak
Team Canada presented by Sobeys showed their resilience on day one of the 2022 Davis Cup Finals group stage, rallying from multiple deficits throughout the day to defeat the Republic of Korea 2-1 in a thrilling tie that finished after midnight in Valencia.
Vasek Pospisil came up big in his two matches, rallying from a set down to claim the opening singles match before teaming up with Félix Auger-Aliassime to clinch the tie in a wild doubles match after Auger-Aliassime was defeated in the second singles match.
Canada needs to finish in the top two in Group B to advance to November’s knockout stage. They still have ties remaining against Spain and Serbia. A victory over either would put them in a strong position to advance.
It all came down to the doubles match between Pospisil and Auger-Aliassime for Canada and Nam Jisung and Song Min-Kyu of South Korea.
After a pair of back-and-forth sets, the Koreans appeared to be on their way to victory with a break early in the decider, but the Canadians dug deep and never stopped fighting, winning the last five games in a row to seal the victory and win the tie for Canada.
Each of the first six sets played on Tuesday saw a break in the first two games. That trend continued into the doubles match as Pospisil was broken in the opening game of the match with the Canadian double-faulting on break point.
The Canadians appeared to be in trouble as the Koreans were cruising through their service games early on, but the door opened at the last minute when Team Korea served for the set. Canada saw their first break points of the match at 4-5, 15-40 and on the second, Pospisil’s return split Nam and Song at the net and dropped in for a winner to level the set at 5-5.
Having seen their lead slip away late, the Koreans looked shaky and a nervy game at 5-6 cost them the opening set as they were broken for the second time in a row. Pospisil and Auger-Aliassime won the last four games of the first set in a row.
For the first time all day, the first break of a set came late after both squads held their first five service games, although the Canadians had to save a handful of break points on the way to 5-all. There, they went down love-40 on Auger-Aliassime’s serve and it proved too big a hole to dig out of as the Montrealer double-faulted to surrender the break.
Unlike the opening set, the Koreans were able to serve it out to send the match to a decider, where they broke immediately to take a 2-0 lead and eventually found themselves closing in on the victory at 3-1.
That’s where the Canadians found their final wind. After Pospisil held serve to make it 2-3, they broke to get back level at 3-all. An Auger-Aliassime hold to love gave Canada its first lead of the decider. They then kept the momentum going and broke to set up Pospisil to serve out the match, which he did with another hold to love.
Earlier in the day, Pospisil’s years of Davis Cup experience had already paid off in a big way for Canada in the opening match against Seong-Chan Hong, as he fought back from multiple deficits to win the opening singles match of Canada’s tie with South Korea.
The Canadian No. 2 trailed by a set, then 0-3 in the third and was two points from defeat in the third-set tiebreak. None of those deficits were too great for Pospisil to overcome as he fought back for a 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(5) victory.
First serves were key to the Canadian’s comeback, as Pospisil won 81 per cent of his first serve points, but a mere 36 per cent of his second serves. Most of the match was decided on Pospisil’s racket as he struck 29 winners to Hong’s 11, but also committed almost five times as many unforced errors 39 to 8.
A sluggish start from Pospisil cost him in the opening set as an error-filled opening game was capped off by back-to-back backhands into the net to surrender the break. Despite a couple of break points in the second and sixth games, the Canadian was unable to draw back level and dropped the opening set.
To start the second, Pospisil upped the aggression and started forcing errors off of Hong’s racket. He was rewarded with a break in the second game as he raced out to a 3-0 lead.
Every service game in the set was a battle for the Korean, as he faced break points all three times he stepped up to the line and was broken twice as Pospisil forced a third set.
Pospisil had a chance to take control of the match in the opening game of the decider when he held two break points. He sent a lob just long on the first and the let a Hong passing shot go, only for it to drop just inside the baseline.
The Korean made him pay in the next game, breaking to love to seize the initiative in the decider. It did not last, however, as Pospisil quickly regained his footing, breaking back and levelling the set to 4-4.
It seemed as though the momentum was firmly in the Canadian’s favour when he turned a 0-3 deficit into a 6-5 lead, serving for the match in the 12th game. Pospisil then looked in control of the third set tiebreak when he led 4-2 on his own serve.
Both times, Hong dug deep to stay alive and was two points from victory at 5-4 in the tiebreak. But Pospisil was not to be denied, winning the last three points of the match, closing it out with a return winner, to give Canada the first point of the tie.
A quick start to the second match from Félix Auger-Aliassime made it look like victory was imminent for the Canadians, but the world No. 13 suffered an unexpected letdown as he was beaten by Soonwoo Kwon in straight sets 7-6(5), 6-3.
What looked like a serving masterclass from Auger-Aliassime quickly devolved into a sloppy performance as he committed 19 unforced errors while only striking 14 winners. Kwon was slightly cleaner with just 16 unforced errors. Failing to convert break points was costly for the Canadian, as he went 2-for-9.
Auger-Aliassime could not have asked for a much better start to the match, winning the first 12 points as he held to love twice and broke to love on his way to a quick 3-0 lead. He nearly made it a double break in the fourth game but was unable to convert three break points.
Still, he was cruising on serve, picking up a third straight hold to love and eventually winning his first 13 service points before missing a forehand swinging volley at 4-2.
After that incredible start, the Canadian’s biggest weapon unravelled in a hurray as he found himself down break point for the first time in that seventh game and sent a backhand long to surrender the break.
A tiebreak was needed to decide the opening set and after the servers dominated the first 11 points, Auger-Aliassime’s delivery abandoned him at the worst possible moment, double faulting down set point at 5-6.
Kwon had been steadily building momentum and confidence through the opening set and he carried it into the second, breaking quickly on his way to a 3-0 lead in the second set. The Korean added a second break, but Auger-Aliassime was able to claw that one back right away.
Unfortunately, he was unable to reclaim the second break as Kwon held on to level the tie at 1-apiece.