Canada continues its ‘ridiculous’ ride to the Davis Cup final, where Rafa and host Spain await

Canada continues its ‘ridiculous’ ride to the Davis Cup final, where Rafa and host Spain await


Gigantism would describe the Davis Cup trophy. Most hulking, humongous trophy in all of sportsdom.

Really, more monument than cup at 110 centimetres tall and 107 centimetres wide, in wedding cake tiers with the silver punch bowl atop. It is at least three times bigger than the Stanley Cup, and has to be shipped in three containers. Inside Louis Vuitton designed travel cases, no less.

Perhaps destined to get visa-stamped for Canada.

“A grandiose trophy,” says Michael Downey, the president and CEO of Tennis Canada. “If you win it, a fringe benefit is that you get to keep that trophy for a year.”

A touring spectacle, should Canada come up championship-gilded in Sunday’s Davis Cup final against Spain. Versus Rafael Nadal et al. In Madrid. How’s that for a honkin’ huge challenge?

Gigantism would likewise describe this country’s suddenly out-of-all-proportion phat-ness as an emerging tennis colossi, from a Grand Slam title for the skyrocketing Bianca Andreescu to slam-bang Davis Cup chops.

Bros in arms Denis Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil made history at the Caja Magica on Saturday, lifting Canada into the Davis Cup final for the first time in, combining to beat Russia 2-1 in a nerve-shredding affair that went the distance: a three-set doubles match with a tiebreak in which the Canadians dropped the first three points before pulling out the match 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) on Pospisil’s serve, returned wide.

It was an utterly gassed Pospisil, who lost earlier in the day to Andrey Rublev, 6-4, 6-4, before Shapovalov pulled the team level with a gutsy 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 performance over Karen Khachanov. At the end, the Canadians collapsed into each other’s arms before being joined by the rest of the team for an ecstatic group hug and bouncy-bounce dance.

Pospisil and Shapovalov have played every match in the radically overhauled Davis Cup. With Milos Raonic on the broken body shelf and Felix Auger-Aliassime kept in cautious reserve — recovering from ankle injury and watching from the sidelines, to this point, with Brayden Schnur — it was left to Pospisil to the duo to assume the entire burden. They’ve played tennis for miles. Shapovalov had only half an hour between singles and doubles duty Saturday.

But Pospisil, the Davis Cup veteran, ranked 150th in the world in singles, has been the gobsmacking story of the tournament, steadiest on the tiller during Canada’s run, winning all but one of his singles matches. He hadn’t even dropped a set until Rublev got the best of him Saturday.

The 29-year-old, 10 months removed from back surgery, racked up three major upsets shepherding Canada to the semifinal, out-grinding No. 12 Fabio Fognini of Italy, No. 36 Reilly Opelka of the United States and No. 48 John Millman of Australia in the past week. For context, Canada went into Madri, where they were seeded 16th — with an 0-15 record against Americans in Davis Cup play and an 0-9 mark versus the Aussies.

“I’ve been on the tour for 12 years now and this is an incredible moment, to be a part of this,” crowed Pospisil, the long, lanky Vancouverite, who could barely string a sentence together afterward, so overwhelmed was he in the moment. “Especially (because) I was injured at the beginning of this year, had surgery and wasn’t sure how many moments like this I might have. But I got back to a really high level much faster than I expected, which was really nice. I worked really hard for that and, to be here now playing the Davis Cup Finals for Canada, it’s incredible. So I’m pretty thrilled.”

Pospisil and Shapovalov, from Richmond Hill, are both 5-2 in Madrid, encompassing singles and doubles play, including an exhausting, taut doubles match rubber against the Down Unders.

“The last five days, it took a lot of emotions just to get to this match,” said Pospisil. “So I think it’s just building, building, building and every match just feels that much more emotional and a huge success. And obviously to win in a third-set tiebreak makes it that much more dramatic and that much more special.

“It’s pretty incredible to make the finals, first time in history for Canada. And to do it the way it happened was pretty special to be a part of.”

Canada first appeared in a Davis Cup in 1913. The best Canadian result came in 2013, when the team reached the World Group semifinals before losing 3-2 to Serbia. The same Serbs, led by Novak Djokovic, who absorbed an emotionally gutting defeat to Russia on Friday, with Rublev and Khachanov saving three match points.

The 20-year-old Shapovalov, who ended the season as a tennis dervish, rising to a career-high No. 15 and with a maiden tour title in his pocket, called the outcome for Canada “ridiculous” while team captain Frank Dancevic revealed he nearly lost it, literally, from the tension and the tremors of the tiebreak. “When I was sitting there on match point, my heart was beating so fast. I was actually starting to black out. I was trying to control my breathing and just telling myself to breathe slowly, stay calm, we’re close to this.

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“It’s definitely an emotional roller coaster, sitting on the chair. But at the end of the day it’s an amazing feeling having your guys perform like this and put 110 per cent on the court.”

It was particularly sweet for Shapovalov, who first came to international attention, Davis-wise, for a bizarre episode a couple of years ago when he defaulted from a World Group tie against Britain after accidentally striking the chair umpire with a ball swatted in frustration. Teenage confidential folly.

“I don’t think any of us expected that we would get this far,” Shapovalov admitted. “We know we have a great team. But you have to have a little bit of luck on your side and just play some ridiculous tennis and play at a ridiculous level.”

Rublev, who hadn’t lost a match either, got the upper hand against Pospisil to launch the day — a 4:30 a.m. start time for those watching in Toronto. The Canadian fired 15 aces in the match but struggled on his second serve and was broken three times on seven chances, while the edgy Rublev repelled five out of six break opportunities.

So it was up to Khachanov to seal the deal. The world No. 17 got off to a roaring start, as Shapovalov played a bunch of loose points. But Shapovalov staged a tremendous comeback, rallying from 4-1 down, rattling off five straight games to clinch the set 6-4.

With no room for error, the hard-serving Khachanov kept the heat on Shapovalov in the second frame, with the Canadian double-faulting in the 10th game to lose serve and the set.

The pressure point of the encounter came in the seventh game of the deciding set when Shapovalov snagged a break after forcing an error, then saved a break in the next game, seizing five straight points at 5-4 and defending three break chances to put himself over the top.

In the other semifinal, a fired-up Nadal was the tennis matador, powering Spain 2-1 over Great Britain, 2015 champs. Rocked by an adoring crowd, the Majorcan thrashed Dan Evans 6-4, 6-0 after Kyle Edmund had defeated Feliciano Lopez 6-3, 7-6 (3) in the earlier rubber. Then Nadal and Lopez joined forces to outlast Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski in the deciding doubles 7-6 (3), 7-6 (8).

And if “ridiculous” is the word of the day, there’s this: Nada’s win saw his Davis Cup career singles record improve to a freakish 28-1.

With files from wire services

Rosie DiManno
Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno





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