The ATP Cup final may well come down to fine margins on Sunday, with the four singles players on show — Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov, and Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut and Pablo Carreno Busta — all inside the Top 20 of the ATP Rankings. It will be a case of Canada’s shot-makers against Spanish consistency as the third edition reaches a thrilling conclusion on Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney.
Canada started off the week with four straight losses, but such is the ability of long-time friends Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov to knit together, not to mention a little help from Great Britain in winning a Match Tie-break in the deciding doubles match against the United States on Thursday, that the team avoided elimination and grew from strength to strength.
“We all know how close we were from being eliminated,” said Auger-Aliassime. “Thank you to Team Great Britain. They made us stay alive and we played a good one against Germany… [Today] we really brought the best energy we could in the doubles [against Russia]. We lifted ourselves, especially in the tie-break [and] I’m really happy we’re through.”
Shapovalov also feels his bond with Auger-Aliassime is strong, saying, “I think [that] Felix and [I] do a really good job of lifting each other up… I think it’s awesome to kind of have that chemistry with Felix. I think it’s definitely taken us a long way.”
Of course, Auger-Aliassime has taken his captaincy responsibilities seriously and, having recorded the biggest win of his career over Germany’s Alexander Zverev on Thursday, the Canadian will fancy his chances against Bautista Agut in the No. 1 singles match, which will be their fourth ATP Head2Head meeting.
“He’s always a tough opponent,” said Auger-Aliassime. “He’s been so consistent throughout his career. His level rarely drops, so I’m going to have to be ready to give my best effort. It’s going to be tough physically, mentally. Of course, it’s always better to have won against a player before. So I come [in] with that little extra belief and confidence that I beat him twice the last two times.”
Auger-Aliassime leads 2-1 overall, but Bautista Agut won their last clash 7-6(3), 6-3 in the 2019 Davis Cup final and is notoriously strong at the start of each season. Bautista has compiled a 41-8 record in January matches since 2016. The Spaniard won an ATP Tour crown in his first events of 2016-2019, went 6-0 at the 2020 ATP Cup and is unbeaten in four singles matches this week. So something has to give on Sunday.
“I think Pablo and I, if we play well, are focused and we feel well on the court, we can win our matches,” said Bautista Agut, after helping Spain reach its second ATP Cup final (also 2020) with victory over Poland on Friday. “That’s been our philosophy all week. I think the conditions are good for my game. I like to practice very hard in the off-season and I’m very motivated at the beginning of the season.”
Former World No. 10 Carreno Busta is also four matches unbeaten in singles at the 2022 ATP Cup. The 30-year-old will begin the No. 2 singles match against Shapovalov with confidence, holding a 4-1 advantage against the Canadian. Carreno Busta has won their past three matches, including a 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(4), 0-6, 6-3 victory in the 2020 US Open quarter-finals.
Shapovalov, with singles wins this week over Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff and Roman Safiullin of Russia, isn’t fazed by the challenge. “I’m really happy with where we are at the moment,” said Shapovalov. “Everyone on the team has made such a great effort to come this far, and I just hope tomorrow we can go one more step further.”
ATP CUP FINAL SCHEDULE – SUNDAY, 9 JANUARY 2022
KEN ROSEWALL ARENA start 5:30 pm
P. Carreno Busta (ESP) vs D. Shapovalov (CAN)
Not Before 7:00 pm
R. Bautista Agut (ESP) vs F. Auger-Aliassime (CAN)
A. Davidovich Fokina (ESP) / P. Martinez (ESP) vs F. Auger-Aliassime (CAN) / D. Shapovalov (CAN)