Photo: Martin Sidorjak
The Spanish pair of Marcel Granollers and Pedro Martinez dominated the Davis Cup group stage doubles match on Friday against Canadians Félix Auger-Aliassime and Vasek Pospisil – until they didn’t.
Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil embarked on an amazing comeback from down 5-3 in the final set. First Auger-Aliassime held serve to 5-4 and then the fun began – at least from the Canadian side. Granollers, who had easily been the first star of the match, won the first point serving for the match but followed up with a double fault to 15-all. Then Pospisil blasted a service return winner through the middle for 15-30, Auger-Aliassime cracked a beauty forehand inside/in forehand return winner for 15-40 and Pospisil sealed the deal with an arrow-straight forehand down-line-return winner for the break.
It was easy to understand how the Spanish pair could be shaken by their sudden and dramatic reversal of fortune playing in Valencia in their home country.
At 5-all, Pospisil looked a bit vulnerable serving at 30-all. But as he had time after time during the match, his serving was clutch – in this case hitting back-to-back aces to make it 6-5.
From 15-all in the ultimate game with Granollers serving, the Spaniards began to unravel under the constant pressure of the Canadian returns of serve. They misfired on volleys on the final three points to end the match – final score Canada 4-6, 6-4, 7-5.
On the last point, Pospisil belted a forehand service return at Martinez at the net, which the 25-year-old Spaniard misplayed long with a forehand volley to end the two-hour and five-minute match.
Asked later if, on the match point, he had deliberately hit directly at the net to challenge him in a vulnerable moment, Pospisil said, “no, I decided to go down-the-line and didn’t know which way he (Martinez) was going to move. They were doing I-formation, so I just chose a spot.”
A further example of the opportunism of Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil, they were 3/3 in break point chances during the match – converting one each in the last two service games of the Spaniards in the third set, and one in the final game of the second set to end it 6-4 on a big service return by Auger-Aliassime that was preceded, at 30-all, by a similar untouchable service return by Pospisil.
Granollers and Martinez played the crisper, especially at the net, aggressive doubles during most of the match but were eventually stymied by the uncanny returning synchronicity of Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil.
“Well, they are great players,” a disappointed Granollers said. “They play big. They serve big. I think we played a good match. Some chances in the second set, having breakpoints on first game and also at 4-all. Also, third set (we) were leading. Yeah, it’s crazy doubles how quick can change – you know, 10 minutes we were 5-4 up, and after 10 minutes we lost the match. That’s tennis, and we will try again (against South Korea) on Sunday.”
“I told these guys,” captain Frank Dancevic said about Auger-Aliassime and Pospisil, “listen these guys (the Spaniards) are playing too good, you guys have to go for it. The only way we’re winning this match is just to go for your shots. They played almost eight huge returns in a row. It’s an incredible finish to the match, an incredible finish to the day.”
A still giddy Auger-Aliassime said in his post-match on-court interview, “I don’t know how we pulled that off. It was a good effort to make them serve for it (at 5-4, 3rd set). We hit some great returns the last three games. It’s not like they dropped their level so much. We played too good. We were in some zone that was different. We just kept looking for it, and kept believing. That’s because of the (courtside) team as well.”
Pospisil had his up-and-down moments during the match, but his serving standard was very high throughout. “I was serving amazing,” he said, adding with a little humour, “I couldn’t put a return in for a set and half. As the match was going, I was returning better and better. The last three games we just lit it up.”
He added, “I’m exhausted and I’m just thrilled that we’re through.”
Pospisil began the day putting in a strong performance in 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 singles loss to Roberto Bautista Agut. Afterward he spoke about some physical ails he experienced during the match. “I had a little something in my lower back, and a left kind of spasm or something going on in my glute,” he said. “The difference (in the match) was physical – 100 per cent. Nothing else, tennis didn’t really decide it and unfortunately at the end of the match, up until at 2-all serving in the third set, a sort of collapse – my whole body. I was extremely fatigued. I had some cramps. It was very slow, very humid, very physical conditions. It’s frustrating because I felt like it was a very high quality (tennis).”
Listening to him it seemed unlikely he would subsequently be physically capable of reaching the heights he did in the doubles, particularly in the most critical moments at the very end.
Against Bautista Agut, Pospisil was in control of the first set after breaking to 3-1. But Bautista Agut broke straight off to 2-0 in the second set and settled into his industrious baseline consistency and service returning for the rest of the match. He broke serve to 3-2 in the final set and finally closed out on his fourth match point to end the two-hour and 11-minute encounter.
Auger-Aliassime matched against the current wunderkind of men’s tennis, Carlos Alcaraz, was the blockbuster second act of the day. The 19-year-old Spaniard and the 22-year-old Canadian were on their games – although statistically Auger-Aliassime was more dominant in an opening set that featured no break points. He had lost only four points in his six service games heading into the tiebreak. Then up a mini-break at 2-1, he had what looked to be a forehand sitter for 3-1 but missed it into the net. That began a run of six points for Alcaraz who wrapped up the set with a forehand inside/in winner.
Auger-Aliassime was living dangerously when he faced a break point trailing 3-2 in the second set but saved it with a bold forehand swing volley winner.
At 4-all, he broke Alcaraz, who showed some of the magic of his run to the US Open title but also did seem vulnerable just five days after that life-changing US Open triumph and three days after arriving back home in Spain. Auger-Aliassime served out the second set and then broke Alcaraz to start the third – and also a second time to take commanding to 4-1 lead.
The match had turned in his favour but he still was tested by Alcaraz. He saved four break points in the fourth game – two of them with an ace and a winning smash – another in the sixth game and a final one in the last game with another ace. A service winner on his second match point gave Auger-Aliassime the victory – his first over a world No. 1 – 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-2 in two hours and 50 minutes.
“I have to give him respect,” Auger-Aliassime said about Alcaraz. “It’s a big effort to win in New York and to come here, a different surface, across the Atlantic and to show up with this level today and this fighting spirit. Credit to him for that but today I think I was a little bit better in the third set. I gave it my all. That’s what you need to do to beat a player like him.”
The stats sheet was fairly balanced except that Auger-Aliassime was 3/6 on break points while Alcaraz was 0/7. As much as Alcaraz has shown himself to be a volley wizard, on this day Auger-Aliassime did him one better – winning 20 points at the net to 19 for his opponent.
“It’s a big win for me,” Auger-Aliassime summed up. “Of course the support of the team and the captain, really helps at moments of difficulty and adversity. But I wasn’t gonna let the team down with my fighting spirit – I was going to give it my all from the first to that last point. And that’s what I did.”
Alcaraz, who despite his disappointment spent a lot of time during ensuing the doubles match signing autographs, said the following after the match, “I didn’t come with very good condition, physical condition. Very, very tough. The court is very slow. I had just two days for adapt my game into this court. Yeah, I mean, it was really tough day. But, of course, I have to say congrats to him (Auger-Aliassime) because he played unbelievable game.”
Canada will now play Serbia, a team featuring No. 33-ranked Miomir Kecmanovic, No. 41 Filip Krajinovic, No. 66 Laslo Djere and No. 92 Dusan Lajovic as singles options.
All the possibilities are not officially known, but it appears as if Canada can win one match against Serbia – and not lose 3-0 – it will be one of the two nations advancing to the Davis Cup Finals in Malaga, Spain from November 22-2.
Serbia was able to rest on Friday while Auger-Aliassime was on court for a grand total of four hours and 55 minutes and Pospisil for four-hours and 16 minutes – both finishing the doubles shortly before 1 a.m. So there is still work to do starting with the first singles match against the Serbs at 4 p.m. (10 a.m. ET) on Saturday.
US OPEN REAR VIEW
The US Open is about lots of things besides tennis – including consuming food. After a visit to the concessions, the nattily-attired chap here is all set for some serious consumption – including a beer that only cost $15 (U.S.).