From left to right, Frank Dancevic, Kelsey Stevenson, Gabriel Diallo, Alexis Galarneau, Denis Shapovalov, and Vasek Pospisil kneel over the Davis Cup Finals sign.

Photo : Martin Sidorjak

Canada are the No. 1 team in the Davis Cup rankings for a reason.

The defending champions will have a chance to retain the trophy in November, booking their spot in the Final 8 of the Davis Cup Finals on Saturday after Alexis Galarneau defeated Alejandro Tabilo in the opening match of Team Canada presented by Sobeys’ tie with Chile.

Galarneau and Pospisil later added a doubles win to claim the tie and finish atop Group A with a 3-0 record.

Coming into Saturday undefeated, the Canadians needed just a single match win to clinch their spot in Malaga and Galarneau, who has been stellar this week for his country, provided.

“I’m very happy to be back in the finals. My team is very excited right now,” said Canadian captain Frank Dancevic after the win. “To have this opportunity again to go for the trophy. It’s lot, lots of great emotions this week. We’re looking forward to being back in the quarter-finals.”

“It just shows that last year was not a fluke, we are to be taken seriously,” said Galarneau. “We are No. 1 ranked in the world so, we wanted to back ourselves and I think that’s what we’re doing at the moment.”

When they land in Malaga in November, Canada will look to become the first repeat champions in a decade, when Czechia took back-to-back titles in 2012-2013. Canada would be the first repeat champion since the reorganization of the event in 2019.

“It would be incredible. It’s very, very difficult to do, even winning one Davis Cup title for us it was 109 years, first time ever, so winning back-to-back would be amazing, “replied Dancevic when asked about the possibility of defending the title. “You need a lot of stars to align for this to happen. You need a lot of good healthy players, you need a little bit of luck on your side, and you put yourself in the position to win.”

Read also: Canada Wins Tie vs Chile, Clinches Spot in Davis Cup Final 8

“After what we did last year, winning the whole thing, I think it was a goal for everyone to try and qualify again for the Final 8,” said Gabriel Diallo, who was Canada’s top singles player in each tie during the week and scored the biggest win of his career in the first tie against Italy. “It’s really prestigious, the best eight countries in the world competing, and we’re just happy that we did out part as players. We’re excited to be going back to Malaga.”

Next Man Up

While on paper the Canadian squad this week in Bologna looked almost identical to the team that lifted the trophy last winter, the players carrying the weight were quite different.

With Felix Auger-Aliassime absent and Denis Shapovalov unable to play, Galarneau and Diallo answered the call and proved that Canada is in fact the tennis powerhouse a No. 1 ranking would suggest.

Only Vasek Pospisil stepped on court for a match in both Malaga last year and Bologna this week.

But despite the lack of experience, Galarneau went 5-0, dropping just a single set in doubles against Italy, while Diallo went 2-1 in the role of No. 1 singles player.

“Of course this is exactly what we were expecting,” said Dancevic.

He was kidding.

Expectations may not have been high for this Canadian squad without their top two players, which made the results this week a pleasant surprise.

Read also: Galarneau, Diallo Step Up Against Italy

“To be honest. I wasn’t expecting this,” the captain said. “Very tough teams in the group and we were missing two of our best players, Felix and Denis. We had rookies playing, guys who had only played a few times on the team. Great players of course, they’re up and comers. They proved that they have stance on this team, that we can win big matches against great players so it was an amazing start for us against Italy.”

That goes for Galarneau too. When asked if he expected to have this kind of a week, he bluntly said “No, of course not.”

“Obviously I knew that I could have a good week. I know that I thrive in this kind of environment but going 4-0, possibly 5-0, is not something that I necessarily imagined.”

Pospisil did his usual Davis Cup thing, going 4-0 including a perfect 3-0 in doubles.

Without their top two able to play, the numbers did not favour Canada, as two of the three teams in the group, Italy and Chile, had at least three players with higher singles rankings than Diallo.

Read also: Canada Sweeps Sweden to Remain Undefeated

“Maybe on paper we weren’t supposed to qualify,” said the Canadian No. 1. “But we had so much heart the whole week and it showed when our backs were against the wall, we played some amazing tennis.”

Going into a tie without their highest-ranked player (Auger-Aliassime) and with your second recovering from injury (Shapovalov) put the Canadian team in a bit of a tricky situation trying to find the best roster to keep the title defence alive.

According to Diallo, it was all about being ready for anything.

“It was more a process. Every day, just trying to be ready in case we get the call,” explained the Montrealer. “It was more of a day-to-day thing and we got the call the day before that we were going to play one and two so we just went after it. “

But at the end of the day, Davis Cup is a different beast for an individual sport. Even though it is still just one or two people hitting the ball, it really is about the team as a whole.

“We’re definitely doing something right. This team spirit is awesome,” explained Galarneau. “Veterans like Vasek guiding us and helping us, seeing the performance that he had against Sweden is very inspiring. We’re just clicking pretty well.”

“Everything just happened the right way fur us this week the guys kept a good rhythm, good motivation with each other. It was a good energy from day to day” was Dancevic’s analysis.

Diallo also spread the credit, saying, “I’m super happy that, not just for Alexis and I but also Vasek. It was a whole team effort. It was an amazing week. The staff did their part. It was a huge, huge team effort.”

For Dancevic, he highlighted Galarneau’s win over Sonego to kick off the week as his biggest highlight of the week. But the overall play of the youngsters and the continued Davis Cup brilliance of Pospisil brought a smile to his face.

“I’m really happy with what we’ve done, what we’ve proven in the past. We’ve been underdogs many times in the past few and we’ve won very tough matches so we have a lot of spirit on our team from the first point to the last we’re fighting we’re playing to win every point so I’m very proud of my guys, of my team, and I’m happy we could bring it home for Canada.”