Photo: ATP Tour/ATP Cup|
After that impressive win over World No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas just two days ago, Denis Shapovalov was unable to go again in the ATP Cup as he fell to a 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-2 loss to Australia’s Alex de Minaur. That defeat, coupled with Félix Auger-Aliassime’s loss to John Millman earlier in the day, means Canada have won one and lost one tie in the inaugural tournament’s group phase.
There was a last-minute change in Australia’s ranks just prior to the day’s first match as Nick Kyrgios, who was originally meant to face Auger-Aliassime, was ruled out due to a back injury. In his place, Millman was duly drafted into the team by former World No.1, two-time Grand Slam champion and captain Lleyton Hewitt.
This one’s gonna be big.
Canada takes on Australia in Brisbane in their second tie of the @ATPCup.
NOW on TSN5 and @RDSca:
🇨🇦 Félix Auger-Aliassime vs. 🇦🇺 John Millman
🇨🇦 Denis Shapovalov vs. 🇦🇺 Alex de Minaur pic.twitter.com/eViLdAOX3Z
— Tennis Canada (@TennisCanada) January 5, 2020
Heading into the encounter, Auger-Aliassime could take confidence from his previous meeting with Millman. The 19-year-old emerged as the 7-6(3), 7-5 victor in their round-of-16 clash at the Lyon Open in France last May – an event the Canadian would conclude as the beaten finalist.
The first set in Brisbane remained on serve until Millman made his move in the seventh game by firing a strong, near-side forehand which forced Auger-Aliassime into hitting his return into the net, ensuring the Australian moved a break ahead. Despite the Canadian’s best efforts, he couldn’t prevent his opponent from seeing out the set which Millman did expertly via a set point-winning ace.
The Australian took command of the second set a little earlier than the first. In just Auger-Aliassime’s second service game, Millman manufactured a break point and took full advantage as the Canadian hit a backhand beyond the far baseline.
In front of a passionate home crowd, Auger-Aliassime showed glimpses of the impressive play that had seen him rise to a career-high No. 17 in October 2019. But the Canadian was seemingly playing against a man possessed in Millman, who forced another break of serve to take a 5-2, second-set lead which he would not relinquish as he closed out a 6-4, 6-2 victory.
In the tie’s second match, despite manufacturing nine break point opportunities between them, neither Shapovalov nor De Minaur could take the initiative as the first set went to a tiebreak. There, the Australian built a 4-1 lead thanks to a minibreak – but a pumped-up Shapovalov, who was feeding off the atmosphere being created by the fervent home support, fought back to level things at four-all.
— ATPCup (@ATPCup) January 5, 2020
Things were getting tense. First a double fault by Shapovalov handed De Minaur a set point but the Australian hit a forehand long. Then, the Canadian forced a set point of his own after another minibreak. Despite the immense pressure on his shoulders, Shapovalov delivered a hammer blow of an ace to claim the point in dramatic fashion.
In retaliation, De Minaur burst out of the traps at the start of the second set, forcing Shapovalov to drop his serve immediately – albeit on the game’s fourth break point. However, the Canadian held his nerve and produced an instant response, breaking De Minaur to level proceedings at 1-1.
The duo then exchanged consecutive breaks in games six and seven before De Minaur took what would be a decisive lead as Shapovalov dropped his third service game of the set. The Australian looked to have squandered his opportunity to serve it out when he gifted the Canadian two break points, but he fought back to win the game and level things up at 7-6(6), 4-6.
You best believe it. We're going to a decider!
— ATPCup (@ATPCup) January 5, 2020
As he did at the start of the second set, De Minaur began the third by breaking Shapovalov’s serve. The 20-year-old from Sydney claimed the second of two break points as his Canadian opponent fired a forehand into the net after a short rally. Then, a double fault from Shapovalov at the least-opportune time handed De Minaur another break, extending his lead to 4-1. From there on out, the Australian made no mistake as he saw out the set 6-2.
In doubles, Auger-Aliassime and partner Adil Shamasdin were unable to turn the Australian tide as they were beaten 3-6, 7-6(3), 10-8 by John Peers and Chris Guccione as the hosts claimed a 3-0 victory in the tie.
(Feature photo: ATP Tour / ATP Cup)