After a Qualifiers 3-0 loss without its top three players – Félix Auger-Aliassime, Denis Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil – to the Netherlands in The Hague in March, Canada was eliminated from the 2022 Davis Cup Finals.
But less than two weeks later, after the suspension of the Russian Tennis Federation by the International Tennis Federation following the invasion of Ukraine, 2021 semi-finalist Serbia was elevated to replace defending champion Russia’s wild card position and Canada, as the highest ranking (No. 6) of the 2022 losing Qualifiers nations, received the wild card previously awarded to Serbia.
So it is that Canada finds itself this week in Group B of the Davis Cup Finals group stage in Valencia, Spain, vying for a spot in the eight-team Davis Cup Finals to be played in Malaga, Spain, in late November.
The other nations in Group B are South Korea, Spain (without Rafael Nadal) and Serbia (without Novak Djokovic). The top two teams in the round-robin event advance to the Finals.
Canada begins with a tie (two singles followed by a doubles) against South Korea on Tuesday and then will face Spain on Friday and Serbia on Saturday.
Since reaching the 2019 Final in Madrid against Spain in the inaugural year of the new, one-site Davis Cup Finals format, the record of the Canadian team is not particularly distinguished. It had 3-0 losses to Sweden and Kazakhstan in Madrid in 2021 and then to the Dutch in March. In those losses – winning only two sets in nine matches – the team played without its best players, Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov. And it only had Pospisil for the Finals in 2021.
It appeared captain Frank Dancevic’s squad would again be under-maned when both Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov were not among the players announced a month ago for this week’s group stage.
But Auger-Aliassime, 22, revealed, after a second-round loss to Jack Draper of Britain at the US Open, that he was reconsidering and subsequently did commit to the tie, arriving in Valencia on Friday.
The other members of the team are 32-year-old Pospisil, 23-year-old Alexis Galarneau and 20-year-old rookie Gabriel Diallo. The latter, a 6-foot-7 Montrealer, had a big break-out victory at the Banque Nationale Championship Challenger event in Granby, Que., last month.
South Korea would appear to be the weakest team in Group B with only the 24-year-old Soonwoo Kwon having a singles ranking (No. 74) inside the top 450. And even though they don’t have their superstars in Nadal and Djokovic, Spain, with No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz, No. 14 Pablo Carreno Busta, No. 21 Roberto Bautista Agut, No. 34 Albert Ramos-Vinolas and No. 67 Pedro Martinez, and Serbia with No. 33 Miomir Kecmanovic, No. 41 Filip Krajinovic, No. 65 Laslo Dere and No. 92 Dusan Lajovic, have depth on their teams.
But only two players can play singles in any one tie and Auger-Aliassime is the second highest-ranked player (at No. 13) in Group B behind newly-anointed top-ranked Alcaraz – and there could be questions about his participation, or how many matches he will actually play, after his grueling run to the US Open title.
The key for Canada could be that it not only has a second experienced singles player in the No. 141-ranked Pospisil – 12-13 singles record in his 23 ties – but he’s also one of the two best doubles players in the event in Valencia. Only current No. 12-ranked Marcel Granollers of Spain has a doubles record comparable to Pospisil.
Therefore, Canada’s hopes will focus on Auger-Aliassime, a possible win by Pospisil in the second singles and then potential tie-deciding success in the doubles.
“Félix and Vasek are the obvious ones here, they’re here with their level of play and their quality,” Dancevic said about his men. “And Gabriel and Alexis, they’ve been playing great tennis all summer and they showed the results and earned their spots on the team.
“I’m going to play Félix and Vasek tomorrow (Tuesday),” Dancevic added about his singles choices, to be officially submitted one hour before play begins at 4 p.m. (10 a.m. ET in Canada). “And I’m going with my two best players for doubles unless something wild happens. I’m going with my top players for the matches.
“I’m expectings the two top-ranked singles players to play for Korea.”
That would mean Pospisil would start things Tuesday against South Korean Seong-chan Hong, 25 and ranked No. 467, to be followed by Auger-Aliassime versus Kwon, 25. The doubles would follow with Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil likely against Kwon and one of Hong, Jisung Nam and Minkya Song.
The head-to-heads among the four singles players are all 0-0.
Analyzing the Group B nations, Auger-Aliassime said, “it’s obvious that Serbia and Spain are two teams that have a very high level of players with experience in these competitions. They can call on a lot of guys who are very good and against whom I’ve played before – some that I’ve beat, some that I’ve lost to. It’s always a big challenge playing teams that have depth like that. And we’re not in an easy group. But we ourselves aren’t an easy team to play against. We’ve shown that in the past. So if we can each play well, bring our best tennis as a team, we can do really good things. And there’s Korea, which we don’t know as well, and a player I’ve never played (Kwon) but who has had good wins on the tour. So you don’t want to take anyone lightly, but I also feel I can win against anyone.”
The notable absentee on the Canadian team is Shapovalov, and captain Dancevic said about him, “Denis couldn’t make it for various reasons. But it’s all good. He’s welcome to play in the future. We’re just focusing on who’s here and the energy that we have.”
For what it’s worth, and it’s usually not worth much because player participations can vary and are inconsistent, Canada is No. 8 in the Davis Cup rankings while Korea is No. 21.
The tie, best-two-out-of-three matches, is being played on an indoor hard court in the Pavello Municipal Font de San Lluis arena in Valencia, Spain.
Canada vs South Korea is available on Sportsnet One as well as TVA Sports at 10 a.m. ET Tuesday.
US OPEN REAR VIEW
This year marked the 25th anniversary of Arthur Ashe Stadium, opened in 1997 and named after the late American who won the inaugural US Open in 1968 and was widely-recognized as a humanitarian. Above, Ashe’s champion’s banner is part of the East Plaza promenade on the tournament site.
Feature Photo: Silvestre Szpylma / Quality Sport Images / Kosmos Tennis