Of the eight nations competing at the Davis Cup Finals in Malaga this week only two have never lifted the trophy.
Netherlands’ furthest run was making the semi-finals in 2001, losing 3-2 to France in Rotterdam. Canada were one of the earliest teams to join the competition in 1913 but have never won it. Their best performance came in 2019 when they lost to Spain in the final in Madrid.
Could this be their year?
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“This is the strongest Davis Cup team I have seen Canada show up with,” former Canadian professional Sharon Fichman told Sportsnet.
“I think this is so exciting for Canada, I really think they can do some serious damage.”
In the singles, Canada will be led by world No. 6 Felix Auger-Aliassime, who is coming off a very good finish to the season that included three successive titles. They also welcome back world No. 18 Denis Shapovalov and have the experience of former Grand Slam doubles champion Vasek Pospisil.
They will be favourites for their quarter-final against Germany on Thursday and if they win would then face Italy or the United States in the semi-finals.
For Auger-Aliassime it would be the perfect way to cap off his end-of-season burst, which was kicked into life when he helped Canada qualify for the finals in September.
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Coming off a shock second-round loss at the US Open against Jack Draper, Auger-Aliassime rebounded from another surprise defeat to South Korea’s Kwon Soon-woo to win every match he was involved in. That included a victory over newly-crowned world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz that proved crucial to Canada finishing second in the group.
Auger-Aliassime credited the Davis Cup and the Laver Cup, where he helped Team World get their first-ever win, as important to his improving form.
“After the US Open, I felt boosted by the collective training session with the Davis Cup team,” he said last month. “After that, the Laver Cup was a nice collective emotion too. I don’t know why but I took will and energy from there. And the motivation to play good until the end of the season.”
Fichman does not expect Auger-Aliassime’s exerts over the final third of the season to catch up with him at the Davis Cup Finals.
“As a player this is such an exciting time for Canadian tennis. He will be so pumped to be there and find whatever gas is left in the tank.
“He is playing for a team and you get all the energy and support and that’s usually when you see the best players rise because they don’t want to let their team-mates and country down. I believe Felix is going to show up and play incredible tennis and will end this season with a bang.”
As much of a boon as Auger-Aliassime’s form is for Canada, Shapovalov’s return to the top 20 is probably even more significant. His form tailspun around the French Open and Wimbledon with nine defeats in 10 matches. But the 23-year-old has climbed back up the rankings after making his first final of the season in Korea, the semis in Tokyo and the final in Vienna, where he pushed former world No. 1 Daniil Medvedev close over three sets.
Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov, who won the Junior Davis Cup together in 2015 and were both involved in the 2019 final, will clearly be key to Canada’s chances of victory. They could be the best one-two singles combination at the Davis Cup finals, although United States – with Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe – and Croatia – with veteran Marin Cilic and fit-again Borna Coric – definitely run them close.
When it comes to doubles, coach Frank Dancevic has a decision to make.
The pairing of Pospisil and Shapovalov were integral in the run to the 2019 final, winning decisive doubles in the quarter-finals and semi-finals. But Pospisil and Auger-Aliassime won both their matches together in September. It could be a big call for 38-year-old Dancevic, who took over as coach in 2017, and could prove decisive in Canada's chances if Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov don't stay perfect in the singles.
If not Canada then…?
Canada might be expected to win their quarter-final against Germany, but it will likely get tougher from there if they do.
United States, the record 32-time winners of the competition, will be led by world No. 7 Taylor Fritz, who made the semi-finals of the ATP Finals last week. US Open semi-finalist Frances Tiafoe will also be on the team, although there is a notable omission as Rajeev Ram, the world No. 3 in doubles who won the ATP Finals alongside Joe Salisbury, has not been picked.
Ram helped USA qualify with doubles wins over Great Britain and Netherlands in September and said after the ATP Finals he was "very disappointed" not to be picked.
"I put in a lot of hard work this year to help the team get there. I felt like I had earned the spot, if you will. So I was quite surprised when I wasn't picked, and even more surprised to be honest that they only went with four players instead of five. That was the choice. But, yeah, I was hoping to be on the team for sure."
Spain are without their two top-ranked players as world No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz misses out due to injury and world No. 2 Rafael Nadal is focusing on getting fully fit for 2023. They will be led by Pablo Carreno Busta and Roberto Bautista Agut.
Croatia have Borna Coric and Marin Cilic back together.
The pair both went unbeaten in the 2018 final to help Croatia win the competition. Cilic brings bags of experience and Coric has shown signs of hitting his stride again after a year out with injury.
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