It was four sets lost but all of them highly contested as Canada dropped the two opening matches of its Davis Cup Qualifier against the Netherlands in The Hague on Friday.
The standout match was world No. 48 Botic van de Zandschulp’s 7-5, 7-6(9) victory over Alexis Galarneau in the opener before No. 54 Tallon Griekspoor defeated Steven Diez 6-4, 6-4.
Van de Zandschulp (in the picture at top), a quarter-finalist at last year’s US Open and one of the most improved players on the tour, was pushed hard by the 23-year-old Galarneau making his Davis Cup debut.
Galarneau broke serve to lead 3-1 in the opening set, surrendered the break to 3-2 and then was broken again before eventually managing to get another break to level the set at 5-all. But the 26-year-old Dutchman then recorded the decisive break and held serve to close out a 7-5 set that lasted an hour.
It was impressive to see what bold, energetic tennis the world No. 332, fresh out of a five-year college tennis career at North Carolina State, played against van de Zandschulp.
He has a fine forehand, a solid backhand and covers the court well with his athleticism. There’s solid air of moxie and competitive grit about him and that surfaced again in the second set.
He could have faded away but Galarneau hung tough as the players exchanged four breaks in a row to 3-all and, from there, held serve to force a tiebreak.
In the tiebreak, Galarneau led 2-0 and it easily could have been up 3-0 except that van de Zandschulp struck a backhand that hit the net cord and toppled over for a winner when it looked to be possibly going wide.
It might have been an emotional crusher for Galarneau when he lost the next four points to trail 5-2. But he got back to 5-5 and actually held a set point leading 7-6 only to misfire with a backhand service return. Six points later – on his fourth match point – van de Zandschulp was able to finally wrap up the two hours and 17 minutes of top-flight, competitive tennis.
“It was my first Davis Cup tie so there was a little bit of nerves and excitement at the start of the match,” Galarneau said, “but my team gave me a lot of good energy and I thought I did a good job managing the first few games. Maybe I didn’t manage my energy so well after that – the only thing that I would regret from the match is managing the energy a little bit better. But overall my tennis was really good and I had a lot of fun on the court.”
Galarneau displayed an element of the game that is not often seen in modern tennis – an amazingly deft touch with his lobs. He lofted several over a surprised van de Zandschulp on key points during the match.
And a final note about Galarneau: fans of Félix Auger-Aliassime can easily understand why he would want to practice – as he did – with his long-time friend for three weeks in Monte Carlo in the off-season last fall. Galarneau is one of those engines that never quits and he would be a perfect guy to hit with.
The Diez – Griekspoor match lacked the electricity of Galarneau – van de Zandschulp, but it had its moments as the gutsy Canadian did his best to counter Griekspoor’s more dominant game.
The 30-year-old from Toronto saved three break points at 3-4, love 40 in the first set, creating some doubts in the 25-year-old Dutchman. But two games later Griekspoor broke Diez, who didn’t have any break points in the set, to close it out 6-4.
In the second set, the No. 294-ranked Diez broke Griekspoor to love in the opening game and led 3-1 before dropping serve to make it 3-all.
Serving down 3-4, Diez saved three beaks points to make it 4-all but after Griekspoor held to 5-4 there was an injury time-out and treatment for Diez (groin).
He didn’t have much left in the final game and Griekspoor won it to 15 to wrap up a one-hour and 36-minute match and put the Dutch team in a commanding position heading into Saturday’s doubles to be followed by two singles.
Griekspoor has a big forehand and a strong serve – he won 78 per cent of first-serve points and 59 per cent of second-serve points to 60 per cent and 48 per cent for Diez. Using his aggressive forehand, especially on service returns, he created 16 break points (converting three) to just two (converting one) for Diez.
“It was a tough day for us result-wise going down 2-0,” said Canadian captain Frank Dancevic about a not entirely unexpected outcome for a team playing without Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil. “We had chances in both matches. Luck wasn’t on our side. On a positive note, I was really happy to see Alexis play his first Davis Cup match. He was inspired by the moment and played some amazing tennis. We are still alive for the doubles tomorrow and will leave it all out there.”
The red-clay surface didn’t stop a lot of aggressive tennis (van de Zandschulp hit 40 winners) being played by the players – with the conclusion being that indoors at the Sportcampus Zuiderpark was more of a factor than the gritty red stuff.
In Saturday’s doubles – beginning at 1 p.m. (7 a.m. ET in Canada) – it is slated to be Wesley Koolhoff and Matwe Middlekoop for the Dutch and Peter Polansky and Brayden Schnur for Canada.
It will only be Koolhoof and Middlekoop’s second Davis Cup doubles – they combined for a win over Uruguay last September in Montevideo. So far this year they have not played together. Middlekoop played with compatriot Robin Haase and they won the doubles in Rotterdam last month, and with van de Zandschulp in the ATP 250 event in Melbourne before the Australian Open.
Polansky and Schnur have also only played together once in Davis Cup – losing the group stage of the Finals last year in Madrid – 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-1 to Kazakhs Andrey Golubev and Alexandr Nedovyesnov.
The doubles will be carried on Sportsnet360 in English and on TVA Sports in French beginning at 7 a.m. ET.
Following will be the scheduled reverse singles: Diez vs van de Zandschulp and Galarneau vs Griekspoor.
The winner of the best-of-five match tie will play in the Group stage of the 2022 Davis Cup Finals from September 14-18, while the loser will be in either a home or away Group 1 tie September 16-17 or 17-18.
Feature Photo: Martin Sidorjak