Photo: camerawork usa

The 2022 tennis season has arrived, and the third installment of the ATP Cup is underway!

Félix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov, Brayden Schnur, and Steven Diez will be representing Canada at this year’s ATP Cup, which is running from January 1-9. The 16-team field is divided into four groups. The Canadians – playing out of Group C – will start their tournament against their neighbours to the south, the United States.  

The ATP Cup follows a similar format to the Davis Cup. All ties feature two singles matches and one doubles match. The first singles match is played by each country’s No. 2 player, however, Canada’s Denis Shapovalov wasn’t able to go and was replaced by Brayden Schnur ahead of the first bout.

Schnur – making his ATP Cup debut – had a difficult task at hand against wily veteran John Isner. The 36-year-old American has ended his previous 12 seasons inside the Top 25 and is currently 214 spots above Schnur in the ATP rankings. Despite the on-paper advantage for the Americans, Schnur was ready to pounce on this terrific opportunity.

In the opening set, Isner struck first and took the early break advantage. The 6-foot-10 American broke Schnur again in the sixth game and clinched the set in the seventh. Despite the score, Schnur looked comfortable returning the powerful American’s serve, winning at least two points in each of his return games.

Onto the second set, Schnur continued to apply pressure in his return games. He fought his way to his first break point opportunity in the third game, but Isner was able to fend it off. Then in the fifth game, Isner was able to secure the first break of the set once again. Schnur wasn’t able to get back within striking distance of the American and dropped the match by a score of 6-1, 6-3.

Fritz defeats Auger-Aliassime to give the Americans a 2-0 lead

Auger-Aliassime and Fritz had terrific 2021 seasons, especially during the second half of the year. In September, Auger-Aliassime reached the US Open semi-finals, becoming the first Canadian man to accomplish the feat in singles. Then in November, the Montreal native broke into the Top 10 for the first time in his career. Fritz also earned a career-high ranking in 2021 as he went on a 12-4 run to end his season and climbed the rankings to No. 23.

Surprisingly, today’s match was the first meeting between Auger-Aliassime and Fritz. The heavy-hitting players were destined for a spirited contest under the bright lights of the Qudos Bank Arena in their first-ever matchup. And that’s exactly what happened.

Right out the gate, the American held his serve to love and set up two break point opportunities in the second game. The tenacious Auger-Aliassime turned both chances away and set up his own look at break in the third game. Auger-Aliassime wasn’t able to convert and was forced to save two more break point chances in the fourth game.

The remainder of the set was a little smoother for the servers as no more break opportunities arose, sending the first set to a tiebreak.

In the tiebreak, Auger-Aliassime got off to an unfortunate start. He was down 2-6 to Fritz, and it looked as if the first set was going to the American. However, the World No. 11 wasn’t done fighting and won an astonishing six consecutive points to claim the first set by a score of 7-6(6).

Other than three bad shots in the third game by Auger-Aliassime, the second set was very evenly played. Fritz managed to convert on the lone break point opportunity of the set to take it by a score of 6-4.

The third set was filled with firepower from both ends of the court. Auger-Aliassime and Fritz were cruising through their service games, up until a poor seventh game from the Canadian. Auger-Aliassime missed three first serves, and Fritz capitalized on the opportunity to go up a break in the decider. Fritz served for the match in the 10th game and sealed it with a hold to love.

Fritz and Isner complete the sweep

In the final match of the tie between the Canadians and the Americans, Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov teamed up against Fritz and Isner for the all-important last point.

When paired up, Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov are undefeated in doubles at the ATP Cup (2-0). The duo has a strong history together, winning the 2015 Juniors US Open title and reaching the 2016 Juniors Wimbledon final. As for Fritz and Isner, this is their first match in doubles at the ATP Cup.

The ATP Cup features No-Ad scoring in doubles, and fittingly, the first game made its way to 40-40. Fortunately, the Canadians managed to win the next point and hold their serve.

In the seventh game, the Canadians fended off two break point opportunities but, the Americans won the deciding point and earned the break advantage. Fritz and Isner took the first set 6-4.

The Americans broke the Canadians first in the second set, this time in the fifth game. A brilliant angled backhand return by Fritz put the Americans in full control of the match.

Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov had a great chance to break their opponents back in the eighth game with four chances against the Americans. However, Fritz and Isner stayed calm and turned them all aside.

Isner, one of the all-time best servers in tennis, served out the match in the 10th game to give the Americans their third win of the tie.

Canada will face Great Britain in their next tie on Tuesday.