Tennis

Canada completes stunning comeback to reach Davis Cup semis

Rule No. 1 of Davis Cup: never count Canada out in the doubles.

Vasek Pospisil and Denis Shapovalov picked up where they left off in 2019, rallying from a set down to claim the decisive doubles match and send Team Canada presented Sobeys into the semifinals of the 2022 Davis Cup to complete a thrilling comeback win over Germany.

The Canadians were in trouble after Shapovalov dropped the opening singles match in a third-set tiebreak to Jan-Lennard Struff, but a dominant performance by Félix Auger-Aliassime in the second singles set up the dramatic doubles win.

It is the third time in Canada’s last four Davis Cup ties that the Canadians won after trailing in the decisive doubles match.

Canada will now look to reach its second final in the last three editions of the Davis Cup Finals when they take on Italy on Saturday.

After splitting the singles matches, the pressure was on for Pospisil and Shapovalov and it was turned up when they fell behind early. But the Canadian pair refused to go away and continually picked up their level as the match went on, eventually emerging with a 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory.

Power made a big difference for the Canadians, especially on serve as they fired 11 aces and 29 winners. They only faced one break point in the last two sets and did not have to defend one in the decider.

The Canadians had a chance to get the early advantage when they held a pair of break points in the German’s first service game. However, Puetz was able to come up big and save both.

In the very next game, Pospisil misjudged a volley that dropped in for a winner to set up a break point. Shapovalov flubbed the volley to give Germany the early break.

When Pospisil stepped up to serve again at 2-4, he once again found himself under pressure on serve and double-faulted on break point to give the Germans a stranglehold on the opening set.

The Canadians quickly put the disappointment of the opening set behind them, holding a break point in the Germans’ first service game before Pospisil laced a backhand return winner up the line to finally score a break for a 3-1 lead.

Pospisil came up clutch late in the second set when he faced a break point on his serve, hitting back-to-back aces and an unreturned serve to escape the jam. It was the last break point Canada faced in the match.

They carried the momentum into the deciding set, breaking to love for a 2-1 lead. Once they had the lead, the result was never in doubt. For good measure, the Canadian tacked on one more break to complete the stunning comeback.

The dramatic doubles victory was only possible after Félix Auger-Aliassime came up big for the Canadians in the second singles.

Needing a win to keep Canada alive, Auger-Aliassime got into a groove and simply overpowered Oscar Otte, giving the German very few chances in the straight-set win.

Now it’s down to Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil in the doubles, which will decide the tie.

Auger-Aliassime brought the form that saw him finish the season as one of the hottest players on tour to his battle with Otte, as he dominated with his first serve firing 15 aces and winning 89 per cent of his first serve points, losing four total. He was firing on all cylinders in all aspects of the game, hitting 21 winners, 18 of them with his forehand, in the 7-6(1), 6-4 victory.

It took Auger-Aliassime a couple of games to get going, even having to save a break point in his opening service game. However, as the set progressed it was the Canadian finding his way into more return games while cruising on serve.

At 4-3, Auger-Aliassime had three chances to secure the break, but all three times the German found a big serve to escape and remain on serve.

Once the tiebreak rolled around, the German ran out of luck. A double fault on his first service point gave the initiative to Auger-Aliassime and the Canadian never looked back, winning the last five points in a row and finishing off the first set with an ace.

With the momentum at his back, Auger-Aliassime had a chance to break in the opening game of the second but was unable to take advantage of a 15-40 advantage.

At long last, after Otte missed a forehand to set up a break point at 3-all, Auger-Aliassime fired a forehand winner to seal the decisive break.

Canada, who boasts the highest-ranked No. 1 and No. 2 players of any country competing in the Davis Cup Finals, was likely hoping to finish off the tie without need for the doubles, but that hope was dashed when Denis Shapovalov dropped the opening match to his nemesis, Jan-Lennard Struff.

An early break gave the German the lead and while Shapovalov refused to go away, he was unable to put himself ahead and fell for the sixth time in nine meetings Struff 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(2).

Shapovalov may get a chance at redemption if Félix Auger-Aliassime can defeat Oscar Otte in the second singles match. The Canadian singles No. 2 is currently expected to play doubles with Vasek Pospisil if the tie goes the distance.

Inconsistent serving was a problem for Shapovalov, who hit 18 aces and won 81 per cent of his first serve points, but he also had 10 double faults and claimed just 47 per cent of his second serve points.

Back-to-back double faults to surrender the break put Shapovalov in an early hole to start the match. He had a chance to break right back in the following game, but Struff snuffed out the opportunity with a big serve.

That became a pattern in the opening set, as every time Shapovalov played in way into a Struff service game, the German was able to conjure up a big serve to eliminate the threat. The consistency was also lacking from the Canadian, as he fired a forehand wide to surrender a second break and the opening set.

As the match went along, Shapovalov began to grow in confidence and started taking control of the points.

Another break point chance came and went early in the second set, but when the door opened again at 3-all, the Canadian won a wild exchange at the net, punching the ball past a stranded Struff to take the lead.

Like the rest of his game, Shapovalov’s serving was becoming more effective as the match went along and he was able to hold on without too much difficulty to send the match to a decider.

A stroke of bad luck put the Canadian in an early hole in the third when he let a mishit passing shot from Struff go only for it to drop in to give the German a 3-1 lead.

However, the luck balanced out at the most critical juncture of the match. Struff served for it at 5-3 and held a match point, only to dump a tight volley into the net. Shapovalov saw four break points pass him by before a mishit return floated past Struff and dropped in to put the set back on serve.

He was not out of the woods, as Shapovalov faced a match point on his own serve at 4-5, but saved it with a serve that barely clipped the line.

It all came down to a final set tiebreak, where Shapovalov sliced a backhand into the net to fall behind an early minibreak. He never managed to get it back as the German did not drop a point on his own serve in the breaker to give his country the early lead.

Standing between Canada and a third Davis Cup final is Italy, who upset the United States earlier on Thursday. Canada has beaten Italy in both their previous Davis Cup meetings, in 2013 and in 2019.

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