Take A Bow, Canada Sweeps Its Way To First ATP Cup Title

ATP Cup champions Team Canada (photo: Wendell Teodoro / Tennis Australia)

SYDNEY/WASHINGTON, January 9, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

The torch has been firmly been passed in Canada. Its new bearers are a couple of Next-Gen whiz kids, friends since childhood, who play with poise and class. They are the present and future of Canadian men’s tennis. Oh, Canada!

On Sunday Down Under in Ken Rosewall Arena, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov lifted Team Canada to its greatest international men’s tennis victory for their proud country. The Canadian duo defeated Team Spain 2-0 to win their first ATP Cup title in the three-year history of the season-opening event in Sydney.

There were plenty of smiling faces by the time match point was secured by World No. 11 Auger-Aliassime, who clinched the title for Canada with his 7-6 (3), 6-3 victory over No. 19 Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain at No. 1 singles that lasted two hours and 10 minutes, including an 85-minute opening set.

Although Auger-Aliassime doubled faulted on his first match-point opportunity – his sixth of the match – the 21-year-old from Montreal collected himself. Then, after Bautista Agut hit a backhand return long on the next point, Shapovalov and the rest of Team Canada – Brayden Schnur and Steven Diez – stormed out from their Team Zone onto the court to join in the celebration with Auger-Aliassime, who was the center of attention. By the time the ATP Cup trophy was presented, they all got to take a bow with it.

“The emotions are unbelievable,” Auger-Aliassime, who served as Canada’s team captain, said during an on-court interview before the trophy ceremony commenced. “There’s no better feeling than winning. We left everything out there. We came back from far in this competition, losing our first four matches. But we never stopped believing. I think that’s very important. We trust each other to the highest level. Denis and I, everybody in the team – Brayden [Schnur] played in singles, Steve [Diez] played in doubles and they’ve been supporting us all week. They’ve got a tournament next week, but they’re here every day ready to practice, ready to support us.

“All their egos are aside and we really trusted each other along the way and it came down to the perfect result. I’m super thrilled for everybody in the whole team and myself, of course.”

As the championship tie unfolded, the 14th-ranked Shapovalov put Canada on the scoreboard first with a solid 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 20 Pablo Carreño Busta, who came into the championship final with an unblemished 4-0 record at No. 2 singles as did Bautista Agut at No. 1 singles. Plus, Carreño Busta was 4-1 against his 22-year-old Canadian foe.

“Couldn’t have wished for a better start,” Auger-Aliassime said. “If it wasn’t for Denis the past two days, we wouldn’t be here right now. I’d like to congratulate him. He’s been unbelievable. He lost the past few times against Carreño [Busta] and today he won in straight sets. Not with ease, but the way he can play he won in a good way, so honestly all credit to him.”

During an on-court interview following his one-hour and 39-minute tussle, Shapovalov said: “[I had] a little bit of nerves going out. Obviously, I’ve got a tough record against Carreño Busta, so I knew it was going to be a tough match.It’s a huge win, but we haven’t finished the job. Hopefully Felix can pull through.”

Indeed, Auger-Aliassime did pull through for Canada, winning for the third time in four tries against the 33-year-old Spaniard, which included a five-set triumph in the third round of last year’s US Open. On Sunday, he struck 15 aces, hit 38 winners and saved 10 of 11 break points. Auger-Aliassime will reach a new career-high ranking of No. 9 on Monday.

While Canada stumbled at the beginning of the week-long team event, losing its first four matches of the competition – and stood on the brink of elimination during the final day of group play – they still remained hopeful and resilient.

On Saturday, Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov won a deciding doubles rubber against Daniil Medvedev and Roman Safiullin that knocked out defending champion Russia 2-1. Then, with the ATP Cup trophy riding on the outcome of Sunday’s title tie, the two Canadians confidently played their best tennis of the week to defeat the two-time finalists from Spain. Then clinched the crown on the strength of their back-to-back singles triumphs. The doubles rubber was abandoned.

Shapovalov saved eight of the nine break points he faced against Carreño Busta, then cheered as Auger-Aliassime, a day after losing in straight sets to the World No. 2 Medvedev, remained solid against Bautista Agut and steered his team to victory and the title.

”Well, of course it was not the end that we expect today, but it’s true that [Canada] play two really good matches,” Carreño Busta said in during Team Spain’s press conference afterward. “They are very young and they are improving their tennis a lot.”

Bautista Agut added: “I think Canada has a very complete team. No. 1 and No. 2 players are very good and they can play very good doubles also. I think they will be facing the final rounds in the team competitions because both of them are one of the best players in the world.”

During Team Canada’s press conference, Auger-Aliassime said as the week went on, he thought Canada “played some really good matches and we got more and more belief. But I think the trust and the belief never went away the whole week for everybody on the team.”

Make no mistake, Canada deserved to win.

“I hope this inspires kids and people back home in these tough times right now,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I mean, Canada’s been, a lot of provinces have been going down into lockdown again, not going out much. And, I hope this gives them, just puts a smile on their face and gives them a little bit of support and hope. And, then, yeah, inspires a next generation.”

By the numbers

• Canada was the first team in the ATP Cup’s three-year history to have lost a tie en route to the final. Swept 3-0 by the United States in its opening tie, Canada lost its first match against Great Britain as well. However, Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov bounced back from there, leading Canada to 2-1 wins over Great Britain, Germany and Russia.

• With a 4-1 record at No. 1 singles this week, World No. 19 Roberto Bautista Agut is 41-8 in January since 2016 (10-4 vs. Top 20), including 2022 ATP Cup victories over No. 8 Casper Ruud, No. 9 Hubert Hurkacz and No. 17 Cristian Garin.

“Quotable …”

“As a Spanish captain, I can promise you two things: We will fight until the end and that we have have our COVID passports.”

Tomas Carbonell, Spain team captain, during his runner-up speech Sunday.

Later, during his team’s press conference, Carbonell added: “As a captain, I have great players that once we’re on the court we are only thinking winning, not in losing. So, that’s why we’re very disappointed but we have to accept that today Canada was better.”