Photo : Tennis Canada / Martin Sidorjak
In 2019, a Canadian squad of promising young players and a doubles veteran flabbergasted the tennis world by making it all the way to the ultimate showdown at the Davis Cup Finals in Spain, where they went up against a mighty Spanish armada that ultimately claimed the crown.
But our national team had issued a warning and started commanding respect.
Fast forward three years, and our competitors are respected and perhaps even feared.
Today, as the 2022 Davis Cup Finals get underway, they are among the favourites to win.
Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov—Canada’s top stars—will be there. So will doubles master Vasek Pospisil and up-and-comers Alexis Galarneau (22 years old) and Gabriel Diallo (21 years old).
Their captain Frank Dancevic couldn’t be happier.
“Yes, Gabe [Diallo] and Alex [Galarneau] will complete the team. Five of us are going. You know, Davis Cup is a long week. Anything can happen, and there are a lot of matches to play,” he explained just a few hours before jetting off to Spain until November 27.
At IGA Stadium, between two quick chats with Guillaume Marx, head of performance at Tennis Canada, and national fitness coach Nicolas Perrotte, Frank Dancevic was generous enough to set 15 minutes aside to discuss the upcoming competition.
Despite being known to be a pretty humble guy, he was exuding confidence on the eve of the big event. Confidence and, above all, pride.
He’s thrilled with the level everyone has been competing at these past few months, and not just Félix and Denis: “Those guys have been playing incredible tennis in the last couple of weeks—all of them—at Challenger and ATP events. So, they’re ready to compete at a very high level. It’s good to have depth, and Canada clearly has so much of it.”
No need to remind you that Shapovalov finished the season strong, and Auger-Aliassime spent the past six weeks at the top of his game.
“It’s so unbelievable,” Frank continued. “I’m so happy to see him play like that. He deserves it because he’s a very hard worker. He’s so dedicated to becoming a better player. It’s fascinating to see him. He went into matches believing he could beat anybody out there. And that’s Félix!”
But what about the sheer number of matches he played? “It definitely takes a toll on you, playing so many matches at such a high level. I don’t know how he’s going to feel in Spain, but I think he should be OK,” said the coach. “Of course, we’re going to try to manage his energy and give him a little bit of rest. He might not spend as much time on the practice courts—like two or three hours a day—like the other guys. It’s just a matter of conserving energy, feeling the ball and being ready to go.”
Frank is a young Davis Cup captain, so I asked him how he feels seeing one of his players banging on the door of the Top 5.
“I’ve known Félix for a long time, since he was 13 years old. I used to practice with him at his age. I have a great relationship with Félix and with his coach Fred (Fontang), who coached the team when I first started out as a captain, and we’ll be working together during the week. Aside from some tactics and details we haven’t discussed yet, everything is pretty much set for the players. They’ve done their preparation.”
Ask him about working with Denis Shapovalov and Frank is just as enthusiastic.
“I’ve known Denis for a long time as well, and we have a good relationship. It’s always fun working with him. He’s just an incredible competitor and an incredible Davis Cup player, and you know he loves playing for his country, so he leaves it all on the court. Just like Félix, he can beat anyone on any given day. He’s a great guy to have on our team. It’s amazing. I’m truly blessed to be captain during these times, with these guys.”
Considering how important doubles are in Davis Cup, Vasek Pospisil stands as a central pillar. His presence makes Dancevic all the more confident:
“Vasek with either Denis or Félix are great match-ups. We have a few choices. We just have to put ourselves in a position and who knows what can happen? We feel we can win this thing. That’s the next step. We got so close three years ago in the final. We tasted it, right? So, the guys know they have what it takes, and they’ve already won the ATP Cup. We definitely have the team to be up there.”
The Canadian captain didn’t want to end the conversation without highlighting the importance of the remaining team members, especially given their impressive performances these past few months.
On the Challenger Tour, Pospisil (17-5), Galarneau (12-8) and Diallo (17-6) have all been racking up great results since mid-August. Diallo even made a huge jump in the rankings from No.941 on June 12 to No.224 on November 14.
“I’d heard about him and watched him play at the National Bank Open in Montréal. I was really impressed with his game. Even back then, his ranking was just coming out, and you could tell he was going to be good. He has a lot of depth to his game; he has big weapon and a big serve—the complete package. He has a bright future. He’s close to the Top 200 so he may be in the qualies of the Australian Open.”
The two are around the same age and have a healthy competition going within the team. “They’re pushing each other. Hopefully they can push each other like Félix and Denis or Milos and Vasek in their time,” Frank said.
Dancevic and his crew play their quarter-final against Germany (minus Alexander Zverev) on November 24, with their sights set on a Davis Cup conquest.