They are the perfect combination of youth and experience, and their path to the 2019 final was as consistent as it was challenging. Beating the United States and Italy in the group stage, Australia in the quarter-finals and Russia in the semi-finals, only Spain denied Canada the title. They are among the main characters in Break Point: A Davis Cup Story – premiering on 26 November on Rakuten TV – and nobody doubts that they will be again in 2021.
One year ago today, Canada took to the podium as a finalist in the Davis Cup by Rakuten Madrid Finals 2019; the faces of the players were hard to read. They had come close to winning the title for the first time in their country's history and the disappointment was evident. But at the same time, they were consoled by one certainty: they had everything they needed to be back in the big Final Sunday in the coming years.
Great tennis, charisma, energy, team spirit, youth and experience. Denis Shapovalov and Felix-Auger Aliassime have reached the elite ranks of world tennis at just 20 years of age and add to the experience that Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil bring to the team. Frank Dancevic, playing up until just two years ago, completes the circle as captain and the combination of them all, in this new Davis Cup format, is explosive.
A difficult path
When the official team nominations were announced last year, both experts and tennis fans knew that they were ones to watch. But the road would not be easy; it was certainly going to be a challenge. To begin with, six days before the start of the competition and with the team about to set off for Madrid, the withdrawal of their number one player, Raonic – Wimbledon finalist in 2016 – was confirmed due to a back injury. In addition, another key player, Auger-Aliassime, was still suffering from foot problems, and all this in the context of a more-than-demanding Group F in which the United States and Italy were waiting for them.
But soon Canadian determination was on display, and was without a doubt because of an outstanding week from two players: Shapovalov and Pospisil. Both carried the team on their backs until the very end when Felix was finally able to join in with the captain's plans.
The drama and emotion – and the demanding toll that went with it – was present from the very moment they stepped on court.
In the first duel, against Italy, Pospisil landed a blow by beating Fabio Fognini by a tight 76 75. With an even narrower margin, Shapovalov defeated Matteo Berrettini in three sets 76 67 76. The same four players were to meet again in the doubles; this time, Italy took the victory. Canada had won 2-1 but the wear and tear, on all levels, had been immense and the next day they had to play again.
The United States, who were yet to play, were ready for them. And once again the tie promised pressure almost without respite. Pospisil defeated Reilly Opelka 76 76 and Shapovalov overcame Taylor Fritz 76 63. Canada conceded the doubles, handing victory to the United States 60 60, claiming that they had no players to compete. But their victories assured them first place in the group and with it their ticket to the quarter-finals.
Two rivals of the highest quality
Australia were waiting for them on the centre court that Friday 22 November. An injured Nick Kyrgios was replaced by John Millman, and Pospisil, again pushing hard, took Canada ahead 76 64. Shapovalov, however, saw his streak broken when he was beaten by Alex de Minaur. Once again, Shapovalov and Pospisil made up the doubles pair, the challenge this time to win the third point against John Peers and Jordan Thomson, two specialists, with captain Lleyton Hewitt looking on from the bench. As before, by a narrow margin and giving absolutely everything, they managed it. Shapovalov and Pospisil took victory 64 64.
But if the quarter-finals were tough, the semi-finals were a real eye-opener. Russia had eliminated Serbia and none other than Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov were waiting for them. And once again, it was all or nothing.
Rublev, undefeated in his previous three singles matches, was on a roll and Pospisil suffered his first loss, falling to him 64 64. But Shapovalov kept the team's options open when, a couple of hours later, he managed to beat Karen Khachanov. The four of them were to be the protagonists of a doubles match that paved the way for a place in the final and which no-one was about to give up on. The Russians came with the confidence of having overcome Novak Djokovic and Victor Troicki the day before, but the Canadians at that point were not going to give away anything. When they eventually won in the third set tie-break, falling into an emotional embrace, the whole team couldn't help but jump and shout. Canada was in the final for the first time in history.
A final chapter, a story to be told
Spain had Roberto Bautista back but Canada was also expanding its ranks. Auger-Aliassime was ready to play and faced the challenge of his first match, giving Pospisil a rest in case it once again came down to the doubles. But Felix couldn't beat Roberto; it was now up to Shapovalov against none other than tennis and tournament giant, Spain's number one player, Rafael Nadal.
Nadal arrived at the match undefeated having played seven matches over the previous five days. He had won all his singles and doubles matches, and the night before had been on court when Spain, by a hard-fought 76 76, had beaten Great Britain in the doubles. His reserves were depleted and this was an opportunity that Shapovalov, in extraordinary form despite his own exhaustion, could take advantage of.
So when the first set fell to Rafa 63, the demands of the second set put the Spaniard on the ropes and that's something both teams knew. By the second set tie-break Nadal was calling on energy reserves that he did not have; if the match was drawn out it was likely that he would lose just as his presence in the doubles was likely to be even more problematic. But Rafa knew how to use all his experience in that crucial moment and despite letting one match point slip away, in the second he wrapped up the match and raised his arms before congratulating Shapovalov and the Canadian team for a more than spectacular week.