Canada survived a scare on the opening day of the 2022 Davis Cup by Rakuten Finals Group Stage as Felix Auger-Aliassime and Vasek Pospisil edged past Nam Ji Sung and Song Min-Kyu 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 to notch a first win in Group B.
Frank Dancevic’s men were pushed all the way to a decisive doubles match after Pospisil narrowly avoided an upset against Hong Seong-Chan 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(5) in the opening singles before Kwon Soonwoo produced a sensational comeback to defeat world No. 13 Auger-Aliassime 7-6(5), 6-3 in the second singles.
As with the previous two matches in Valencia, the doubles would prove to be a rollercoaster ride.
The Korean pair edged ahead in the opening set with a break in the very first game, but Canada struck a purple patch at the perfect time, fighting back from 5-3 down to reel off four games in a row and take the opening set.
With Pospisil needing medical attention to his right shoulder throughout the match, thoughts in the Canada camp must have been turning to how much of a toll this encounter was having on the players.
Nam and Song ramped up the pressure in the ninth game of the second set, forcing two break points on Pospisil’s serve and made the crucial breakthrough two games later against Auger-Aliassime to move ahead 6-5.
After closing out the second set, the Koreans kept the momentum going into the start of the third, scoring another early break before moving ahead 2-0.
Having looked down and out, the Canadian pair found a second wind, scoring back-to-back breaks to move from 1-3 down to 5-3 up in the final set. A pumped-up Pospisil served out to love to seal victory after two hours and 18 minutes.
Earlier in the tie, 24-year-old Kwon battled back from 4-1 down in the opening set to score the biggest win of his career against Auger-Aliassime.
Reflecting on his first victory over a top-20 player, Kwon said: “I was eager to win because I represent my own country. So this is very, very special. It's totally different from playing as an individual.
“This is the first time for me to beat a top 13, [someone who] is a very, very strong competitor. This helped me a lot to continue my tennis career.”
Auger-Aliassime took the first 12 points of the match and looked to be in cruise control, but in the fourth game Kwon stopped the rot, saving three break points to prevent himself going a double break down. And then everything changed.
The Korean forced a break of his own in the seventh game and played a much more clinical tiebreak before racing ahead 4-0 in the second set with a performance that made a mockery of his ranking of No.74.
After just one hour and 36 minutes, Kwon held his nerve to close out the match, punching the air in delight.
In the opening match of the tie, Pospisil staved off an inspired performance by Hong Seong-Chan to clinch the opening point.
Having been a point away from trailing 5-1 in the final set, the Canadian needed all of his experience to claw his way back in a gruelling two-hour 37-minute encounter against former junior No. 2 Hong, emerging with a 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(5) win.
It was the Korean who got off to the perfect start with an immediate break of serve to move 1-0 up in the opening set. And every time his Canadian opponent looked to be battling back, Hong showed impressive resilience, fending off break points with big first serves when he needed them.
Hong kept his nose in front before bringing up two set points with an extraordinary forehand winner. He converted at the second time of asking, backing up a big first serve with a leaping volley.
The Canadian appeared to grow in confidence in the second set and started to find more rhythm on his forehand side, in particular.
Pospisil broke to move 2-0 up before racing away with the second set 6-1.
I think what hurt me today was the start of the match. I was kind of fighting against momentum
If the second set was one-sided, the third was anything but.
The Canadian left an easy volley on break point in the opening game of the third set only to see Hong’s forehand dip inside the baseline. Pospisil’s woes in the final set continued as he followed that missed opportunity with a wayward service game in which he was broken to love.
It wasn’t until the seventh game of the final set that Pospisil found a way to break back – much to the delight of captain Frank Dancevic – and after a second break in favour of the North American it looked as though Pospisil would complete a routine hold to serve out the match. Hong had other ideas.
The Korean refused to lie down, breaking to force the match into a decisive tiebreak. Even that went down to the wire as Pospisil won three points in a row from 4-5 down before firing a big forehand down the line.
Pospisil praised his opponent after the match.
“I think he played extremely well,” the Canadian said. “I know that players can play well during Davis Cup competitions when they get very motivated.
“I think what hurt me today was the start of the match. I was kind of fighting against momentum. He gained confidence as the match went on. I thought he played really well.”