First it was unclear if Canada could field a team at the ATP Cup. Then it appeared the Canadians would be eliminated from semi-final contention before their third Group C tie. But on Sunday evening, Felix Auger-Aliassime capped a dream week for his country by clinching the third edition of the team event.
“Being so close to being out of the group and then coming out, you’re kind of in that survival mode and I think we just carried that all the way through to today,” Auger-Aliassime said. “As the week went on I think we 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.”
On 26 December Canada’s No. 2 singles player, Denis Shapovalov, announced he had tested positive for Covid-19 and had to quarantine. It was unclear if the 22-year-old would be able to partake in the ATP Cup. Steven Diez was back home awaiting a negative test himself, and he did not arrive in Sydney until 31 December.
Although the Canadians were able to compete, it did not start well. They lost their first four matches and if the United States defeated Great Britain in their third Group C tie, Canada would not have had a chance at reaching the knockout stages. But all the scenarios went in their favour, giving them an opportunity.
“So many things still had to go our way. We needed the teams to all kind of split the ties. It was super tough for us going down 3-0 the first day so we needed [the] U.S. to lose, and they did in a crazy match,” Shapovalov said. “[It] just seemed like the pieces were all kind of falling into place.”
Once into the last four, Canada faced a tough test against defending champion Russia, led by World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev. Medvedev and Roman Safiullin appeared in control of the deciding doubles early in the second set, but once again the Canadians refused to go away.
After battling through a Match Tie-break to reach the championship tie, the Canadians produced their best performance of the week against Spain. Roberto Bautista Agut and Pablo Carreno Busta are as tough as they come, but Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov had too much firepower and were relentless in pursuit of the crown.
Canadians are champions of the world.
“Really, I hope this inspires kids and people back home in these tough times right now,” Auger-Aliassime said. “A lot of provinces have been going down into lockdown again, not going out much. And I hope this just puts a smile on their face and gives them a little bit of support and hope and then inspires a next generation.”
Steven Diez and Brayden Schnur were an enthusiastic presence in Canada’s Team Zone throughout the competition. They both gave all the credit to Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov.
“My back’s pretty sore from carrying this team the past eight days,” Schnur joked. “It’s a privilege to be alongside and be team members with these two guys here, and obviously Steven as well. For me it’s just a privilege and to see them working so hard, they’re getting everything they deserve.”
“Being here today with this trophy and this amazing team, I think it’s something amazing,” Diez said. “I’ll be really grateful to these two, they’re the present and the future, and they’ll probably win this trophy a few more times for sure.”
But this run will be remembered as the event in which two childhood friends, Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov, showed their country what is possible. They were once boys with a dream, and now they have brought Canada to the forefront of world tennis.
“I really hope it was able to be seen in Canada, I’m sure it was. And I hope it just gives belief, more belief to everyone there that we are a summer sport country as well. I just hope a lot of kids will start picking up racquets after seeing us competing,” Shapovalov said. “It’s pretty special, I think, what specifically me and Felix have, playing since we’ve been little, little children at five or six years old, all the way up to here. Just competing alongside and being able to win titles like this together, it’s something truly special.”