Photo : Pascal Ratthe
Team Canada presented by Sobeys is heading back to the Davis Cup Finals as Gabriel Diallo defeated Seongchan Hong in the first singles match of the day to give Canada an insurmountable 3-1 lead in the tie.
With the win, Canada is assured of a place in September’s group stage.
Ever since the Davis Cup format changed in 2019, Canada has participated in the Finals every year. Each of the last two years, Canada advanced out of the group stage into the knockout round.
Canada was in a strong position heading into Saturday after two impressive singles wins from Diallo and Vasek Pospisil, but had to wait to clinch their spot after Alexis Galarneau and Pospisil lost the doubles match in three sets earlier on Saturday.
It was a roller coaster for Diallo in the singles, who looked well on his way to victory up a set and a break but found himself forced to a decider by a persistent Hong. But in the face of adversity, the 22-year-old rose to the occasion to claim a 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 win.
Diallo had his hands full with the speedy Korean and while he managed to hit three times as many winners, 36 to 12, he found himself battling for consistency as his victory came despite 64 unforced errors. But the first serve helped him out a ton, as he put 75 per cent in play and won 76 per cent.
From early on, the Canadian was able to apply pressure on his opponent’s serve, getting to at least 30 in every one of Hong’s service games in the opening set. But it wasn’t until the final game than he managed to rip a forehand winner to break once again to take the set, as he did in both sets during his match on Friday.
Canada looked well on its way to the Finals when Diallo broke to take a 2-0 lead, but Hong’s incredible defence finally broke down the big Canadian’s serve in the following game, highlighted by two passing shot winners, as he broke to immediately get back on serve.
Errors were starting to cause problems for Diallo and the hyper-consistent Hong took advantage. At 4-4, the Canadian fired a volley long to set up the Korean to serve for the set. Diallo had a 15-40 edge to get back on serve, only to commit four straight errors to send the match to a deciding set.
Rather than fading after seeing his lead vanish, Diallo found another gear. Rather than backing off and playing safe to cut down on errors, the Canadian upped the aggression and started punching holes in his opponent’s defence.
The final set was one-way traffic, as Diallo broke twice courtesy of errors off the Korean’s racket on his way to winning the last five games in a row to close out the tie for his country.
Diallo is now 4-3 in his career at the Davis Cup, including 4-2 in the position of Canadian No. 1.
Galarneau, Pospisil Can’t Close
Canada had had a chance earlier in the day to wrap up the tie, but Alexis Galarneau and Vasek Pospisil came up just short in their doubles match against JiSung Nam and Minkyu Song.
With a chance to wrap up the tie, Galarneau and Pospisil found themselves playing from behind most of the day. While they fought right to the last ball, the Koreans seldom slipped up and extended the tie with a 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-3 win.
Serving efficiency was the key to the match as the Koreans only allowed Galarneau and Pospisil one break point in the match which they saved. They also put 75 per cent of their first serves in play and won 78 per cent of those points.
One break point made the difference in a very tight opening set. In Galarneau’s first service game, he sent a backhand into the net to give the Koreans the only chance in the opening frame. They took advantage, blasting a huge return to move up the ultimately decisive break.
The second set followed a similar script, but the Canadians cleaned up their game and hung on to their serve. This time, there were no break points and a tiebreak was needed.
At 2-3, the Koreans committed back-to-back errors to put the Canadians in control of the tiebreak. On Canada’s first set point at 6-3, Pospisil’s return was initially called in for a winner, only for hawkeye to overturn the call. But on the very next point, Galarneau’s floating return dropped in to level the match at a set apiece.
Showing no signs of disappointment after dropping the breaker, the Koreans came out firing in the third. Nam hit Galarneau with a passing shot to set up double break point and while Pospisil saved both with big serves, a couple of miscues from Galarneau at the net gave the early break to the Koreans.
The Canadians had a chance to get right back on serve in the following game, but Pospisil netted a backhand on what proved to be Canada’s only break point in the entire match. They kept the Koreans within sight, but never caught them as the visitors got on the board in the tie.
Diallo will have the next chance to clinch the tie for Canada. He is taking on Seongchan Hong in the battle of singles No. 1s. If he loses, Pospisil is currently slated to play Soonwoo Kwon is the fifth and deciding rubber, although nominations can change.