By Pierre Lechat, December 11 2019 —
The 2019 Davis Cup Finals took place from Nov. 18–24 in Madrid, Spain. Traditionally this has always been a year-long competition. Matches would last three days — with two singles on the first day, a double on the second and two final single matches to finish off on the third. The matches were played as a best-of-five. However, things changed this year. Gérard Piqué, a Spanish professional footballer and investor in the Davis Cup, put a new format in place. Eighteen countries were brought together for one week. This year, the matches had only two singles and one double, and were played as a best-of-three sets. After heavy debate, these changes were passed, and it cannot be denied that the level of the competition went up. The two best players in the world, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic now play in Madrid. With this Spanish dominance in mind, is was surprising to see a young Canadian team reach their first Davis Cup Final.
Before this year, Canada had never been on the radar. Two dominant players have stood out — Denis Shapovalov, who is 15th in the world and Félix Auger-Aliassime, who is 21st. They are a force to be reckoned with. However, it is concerning that Auger-Aliassime suffered an ankle injury this October and it has been holding him back ever since.
Milos Raonic, who was third in the world in 2016. Another talented Canadian tennis player, is still suffering from a back injury and withdrew from his matches against Italy and the US.
Vasek Pospisil, a 29-year-old professional tennis player, is currently ready to go and has what looks like a promising competitive edge. He has spent much of his career injured, which has made for a very irregular ranking. For having been absent most of this season, Pospisil is advancing well in Madrid. His experience in the 2014 Wimbledon championship has made him and Shapovalov — a recent finalist at the Paris-Bercy Masters 1000 — a powerful duo behind the Canadian team.
Having just recently gone up against Italy and the US — two incredibly strong teams — it cannot be argued that the 2019 Canadian tennis team is more advanced than it has ever been before. Pospisil didn’t lose a single set against Italy’s Fognini, who is 12th in the world ranking, and American Opelka. Shapovalov took on Italian-born Matteo Berrettini, 8th in the world ranking, and came out on top with a victory.
The quarter-final against Australia, however, was much closer. Tied after the two singles — Pospisil’s victory, Shapovalov’s defeat — everything was decided in the decisive double, finally won by the Pospisil/Shapovalov pair. In the semi-finals, it was also a decisive double that gave the Canadians victory. The match was very close against the Rublev/Khachanov pair, and the outcome was decided at the final set’s tie-break. Shapovalov and Pospisil made it through again, giving Canada its first final.
For the final, Canadian professional tennis player Dancevic made Auger-Alliassime fight for his first single. The young Quebecker played hard but came up short against Roberto Bautista-Agut — the ninth-rated player in the world.
In the end, Spain beat Canada, but the entertainment was top notch and both teams competed with equal skill sets.
Journalists and reporters focused on negative points of the Davis Cup — specifically the lack of fan support and spectator momentum. However, it could be said that the late timing of many games had a role in the lower crowd numbers.
The Canadian team kept their heads up and advanced with the new competition set-up. They didn’t complain about the rule changes and they played to their strengths. Pospisil actually defended the new format of the Davis Cup. The Federation enabled 200 supporters to make the trip. This group of supporters was by far the noisiest of the week, lead by Shapovalov.
Shapovalov brought in a louder crowd than most. The young Ontarian loves tense atmospheres and his fans brought their best. The Maple Leaf flag was highlighted as Shapovalov competed — leading some to say that the nation’s support is more responsible than the vendor for creating a successful and supportive energy.
Canada came so close to winning the Davis Cup this year and it was great to watch the athletic talent. This team has everything to bring the trophy to Canada in the coming years. Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime are young and will continue to progress in the world of tennis. Pospisil proved he wasn’t done and Milos Raonic’s comeback is widely hoped for. This generation may be the first in Canadian history to win the Davis Cup.