The Davis Cup is billed as the “World Championship of Tennis”.
And on Sunday in Malagá, Spain, Canada defeated Australia and won it.
The squad that wasn’t even supposed to be in the finals at all lifted the iconic trophy for the first time since its initial participation all the way back in 1913.
After being swept 4-0 by the Netherlands in a qualifying tie back in March — a tie top players Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov both decided to skip — Canada was given a pass (as the highest-ranked country eliminated) into to the final phases of the event when defending champion Russia was ejected from the tournament following the country’s invasion of Ukraine.
Given a second life, the Canadians got through the elimination rounds in September in Valencia to reach the final eight this week in Malagá.
They defeated Germany in the quarterfinals Thursday, Italy in Saturday’s semifinal and then swept their two singles match against Australia on Sunday to clinch the title.
“What a way to end the year. It's Davis Cup and we are the champions, world champions,” said Vasek Pospisil, the veteran of the group.
Captain Frank Dancevic, who took part in the Davis Cup for 14 years as a player, vowed the party would last all night — right through to their 6 a.m. flights on Monday.
Young substitutes Alexis Galarneau and Gabriel Diallo, who undoubtedly will have their part to play in years to come, came into the post-tournament press conference but could barely croak out a few words.
Their unwavering and very vocal support from the sidelines, along with a large contingent of Tennis Canada employees, coaches and support staff, made it a true team effort.
“We faced a lot of obstacles this week. We were down many matches, but we had our spirits high and kept fighting until the end, and we are here now with the trophy. It's just an incredible feeling,” Dancevic said.
After the nervous moments earlier in the week, the final against Australia Sunday was almost anticlimactic.
Denis Shapovalov, who was battered physically Saturday after a three-hour, 15-minute effort in defeat, came out a new man in the opening match.
He easily defeated a nervous-looking Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-2, 6-4.
And then, to clinch the tie — and the Cup — Félix Auger-Aliassime was just as impressive in dispatching Australian No. 1 Alex de Minaur 6-3, 6-2.
His performance during the week — notably coming in for Shapovalov in doubles against the Italian team on Saturday, to give Canada the opportunity to play in Sunday’s final — was impeccable.
“I saw the opening. I thought, ‘This is it. I'm going for it.’ That's it,” Auger-Aliassime said of match point. “After that, my legs just dropped on me. I was just … my leg just collapsed. To have Frank and everybody rush me, screaming, it was amazing.”
Fans watching in Canada on both official broadcasters – Sportsnet in English and TVA in French – were deprived of seeing the final moments of victory when the international feed went down – right at the most inopportune time. The commentators were left scrambling to try to explain. And only after the fact were they able to get some coverage of the trophy ceremonies by hooking into the American feed from Tennis Channel, which was not affected.
The Canadian men have excelled in team-format competition in recent years, beginning with their surprise run to the final of the first “new-format” Davis Cup in 2019.
They were defeated by the far more experienced Spanish team there.
But Auger-Aliassime was just 19 then; Shapovalov just 20.
Last January down in Australia, Canada won the ATP Cup, a new team competition with a similar format that featured even more of the world’s best players.
And on Sunday, it won the ultimate prize.
The Davis Cup has been around since 1900. And despite recent fundamental and much-derided changes to the format that have, in the opinion of many, turned the event into a pale shadow of its former iconic self, it remains the ultimate prize.
Auger-Aliassime didn’t commit to the preliminary final rounds in September until after a surprise early elimination at the U.S. Open a couple of weeks beforehand.
But he made the date and led Canada to qualification, without which Sunday would never have been possible.
He and Pospisil had to get it done without Shapovalov, who didn’t play.
Pospisil, 32 and a decade older than the team’s young stars, has always answered the call of his country. And on some occasions before their rise to prominence, he basically lifted the entire team on his shoulders and carried it to victory.
It’s no wonder he was by far the most emotional on Sunday.
“Over the years we have just slowly been growing closer and closer to getting the title. In 2013, we had a bit of a run and made the semis. Then we’ve been in world group for a while and made finals in 2019,” Pospisil said. “It's hard to explain, but (at the) beginning of the week it kind of felt like we were going to win it. Just kind of this feeling that I had. Maybe some of the other guys had it, too.”
The return of Shapovalov to the fold for the final stages allowed Pospisil to focus on the doubles and gave Canada two top-25 singles players.
And Canada took full advantage of teams that were missing key elements.
Germany did not have Olympic gold medallist Alexander Zverev, who has been out with injury since June.
Italy was missing its top two singles players: Jannik Sinner and Matteo Berrettini.
And notably, Nick Kyrgios was not in the lineup for Australia. He is that country’s highest-ranked player in both singles and doubles.
So Canada boasted one of the best one-two singles punches in the event, and the one with the most upside.
But potential is one thing; without the on-court performance to back it up, it’s only a theory.
On Sunday, Canada back it up to become world champions.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2022