Shapovalov Steps Up, Lifts Canada To First ATP Cup Final

Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime (photo: ATP Tour video)

SYDNEY/WASHINGTON, January 8, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Team Canada had lost the first four matches of the 2022 ATP Cup competition and, by all appearances, looked down on their luck a week ago. Now, fast forward and what a difference a week and having a healthy and focused Denis Shapovalov have made. Oh, Canada!

On Saturday, Shapovalov won his singles rubber and teamed with Felix Auger-Aliassime in doubles to propel Canada to its first ATP Cup final. The two Next-Gen Canadians defeated Russia’s Daniil Medvedev and Roman Safiullin, 4-6, 7-5, 10-7, in an hour and 38 minutes to wrap up a satisfying 2-1 victory.

Onward to the championship tie, Canada will face Spain in Ken Rosewall Arena Sunday.

After Canada was swept 3-0 by the United States in its first tie last Sunday and Shapovalov lost his first rubber against Dan Evans of Great Britain on Tuesday, after missing the opening tie while recovering from COVID-19, the Canadians were in real danger of not making it out of group play. Had the United States defeated Great Britain on Thursday, Canada would have been eliminated before facing Germany.

“We were really happy to be in the semifinals because of the way we started,” Auger-Aliassime, who has been acting as team captain this week, said during his team’s press conference. “We all know how close we were from being eliminated. Thank you to Team Great Britain, for sure. They made us stay alive and we played a good one against Germany.

“Then, you get to the semifinals, you’ve got to win two matches, doesn’t matter which ones. Today, we started off with Denis, who made an unbelievable effort to hang in there no to win that tough match against a player who was going to be really good. Then, you know, I had a tough one against Daniil, who is one of the best right now.

“I think we really brought the best energy we could in the doubles, especially in the [match] tie-break. We lifted ourselves. I’m really happy we’re through.”

Indeed, the Canadians have remained resilient throughout the third edition of the ATP Cup competition and Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime, both ranked in the Top 20 in singles, have carried their proud nation on their shoulders while competing Down Under.

“Felix did an amazing job. I had a little bit of a slow start, had trouble returning, but we did a good job to fight,” said Shapovalov during an on-court interview after winning the doubles rubber. “Felix played unbelievable in the game to break and then in the [match] tie-break as well, just making them play so much. It was awesome. We kept fighting. We have great team chemistry, team spirit. So, it helped us a lot.”

The 22-year-old, 14th-ranked Shapovalov put Canada on the scoreboard first after he struck 46 winners and fought past the 167th-ranked Safiullin, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, in a two-hour and 39-minute thriller at No. 2 singles. Then, the World No. 2 Medvedev leveled the tie after he hit six aces and 22 winners to beat No. 11 Auger-Aliassime, 6-4, 6-0, in 69 minutes.

The Canada-Russia semifinal tie would come down to the doubles rubber, where Medvedev and Safiullin had been 3-0 together in group play, while Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime were 1-1, including a win over Great Britain’s Jamie Murray and Joe Salisbury.

“I had to try and stay positive,” Auger-Aliassime said. “Of course, it was tough, especially [because] that second set went the way it went in singles. Denis helped me and the team to push myself. We had a tough start in the doubles. So, to be able to come back in this way, it’s really a team effort.

“On Canada’s third match point try, Shapovalov poached the net and hit a winning short backhand volley that Medvedev was unable to return. Soon after, these two longtime buddies turned teammates jumped into each other’s arms and celebrated their triumph.

“That’s what the ATP Cup is about,” Auger-Aliassime said. “You can still win after being 1-all and losing a tough singles. It’s really about the team effort and we’re happy to be through. We’re really thrilled for the whole team.”

Sunday’s order of play

No. 2 singles will pair Denis Shapovalov of Canada against Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, followed by No. 1 singles between Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada and Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain. The doubles rubber will feature Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime of Canada against Alejandro Davidvovich Fokina and Pedro Martinez of Spain.

By the numbers

Canada clinched Group C despite losing records in matches (4-5), sets (9-12) and games (100-108). After being swept by the United States in its opening tie, Canada lost its first match against Great Britain, too. World No. 11 Felix Auger-Aliassime and World No. 14 Denis Shapovalov bounced back, leading Canada to 2-1 wins over Great Britain and Germany to secure a semifinal berth against Russia, which had been the best tennis nation of the past 12 months – winning team titles at the 2021 ATP Cup, 2021 Billie Jean King Cup and 2021 Davis Cup.

“Quotable …”

“It’s definitely awesomebeing side by side with Felix. I think the chemistry on the whole team is just unbelievable. … I think Felix and me, we do a really good job of lifting each other up. … I think it’s defnitely taken us a long way.”

Denis Shapovalov of Canada, on describing what it means to be teammates with Felix Auger-Aliassime during this year’s ATP Cup.