Canada is closing in on their maiden ATP Cup title after battling past Russia in a roller-coaster showdown on Saturday.
Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov secured the 2-1 victory after prevailing in a tightly contested doubles clash. Heading into the final match, both countries were level at 1-1 with Russia relying heavily on world No.2 Daniil Medvedev to get them though.
Denis Shapovalov gives Canada the lead
Denis Shapovalov got the first win of the tie over his Russian opponent Roman Safiullen 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. Hitting 51 winners and serving 13 aces in a match that went two hours and 39 minutes.
The Toronto native applied the pressure early on against the world number 167 and had chances to break in the very first game but the Russian stood tall and was able to hold serve.
At 1-1, Shapovalov continued to work on Safiullen serve, and on his third break point of the game was able to get the first break of serve of the match for an early lead. That one break was enough for the world number 14 to serve out the first set and take a 1-0 set lead.
The second set was another tightly contested battle and at 6-5 it was the Russian who was putting pressure on the Canadian serve and a superb forehand winner down the line gave him a set point. He won the very next point to take the second set and force a third and deciding set.
The third set stayed on serve and at 2-1 Safiullen had six chances to break but couldn’t convert as the Canadian played some amazing tennis to avoid getting broken and held serve. At 3-3, it was the world number 14 turn to look for the crucial break of serve and he was able to get it. That was enough for him to serve out the match and give Canada a 1-0 lead.
After the match in his on-court interview, Shapovalov gave a lot of credit to his Russian opponent.
”That was super tough and obviously Roman (Safiullen) is playing with a lot of confidence and he is a great player who I think is going to have an amazing season so I am happy to get the win.” He said.
Medvedev evens it up for Russia
Medvedev kept Russia alive in the tie after beating the world number 11 Felix Auger Aliassime 6-4, 6-0 in 69 minutes. Hitting 22 winners and serving six aces while the Canadian hit 13 unforced errors.
Both players did a good job of holding serve in the opening set. Locked at 4-4 the Montreal native played a poor service game and the Russian pounced. Grabbing the decisive break of serve and served out the first set.
It was a match of offence vs defence and the world’s number two defensive skills were on full display as the Canadian couldn’t find his groove after recording a win over Alexander Zverev earlier in the week.
The second set was one-way traffic for the Moscow native who broke three times in the set and served out the match to send the tie into a deciding doubles match.
”It was really tough for me and at one point I was thinking how I was going to break his serve but I knew I had to stay in the match and try to do what I want to do against his big game and that was key today,” said Medvedev.
Canada wins decisive doubles match
The Canadian duo of Auger Aliassime and Shapovaolov confirmed Canada’s spot in the ATP Cup final after beating Safiullen and Medvedev in a match tiebreaker 4-6, 7-5, 10-7.
The Canadians combined for 22 winners and five aces in a match that lasted one hour and 38 minutes.
The first two games of the first set went on serve and it was the Russians who got the first break of serve in the match. That one break of serve was good enough to take the first set.
The second was even more competitive and tight as both teams improved on their service games but the Canadians managed to grab the crucial break at 6-5 to send the match into a match tiebreaker.
The first four points of the tiebreaker went on serve and again riding the momentum of winning the second set the Canadians got a break of serve and pushed again and sealed the win.
”I think we did a good job to fight, and it was awesome and we kept fighting and we have great team support and team chemistry so it helped us a lot”.
Canada will now face Spain in the final on Sunday. The last time these two countries met in international competition was the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid in 2019 where Spain won 2-0.
Felix Auger-Aliassime Survives Australian Open Marathon
For a second time this week the Canadian was pushed but managed to win a tough four-set match against his Spanish opponent.
Felix Auger-Aliassime booked his spot in the third round of the Australian Open after beating Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6 in a match that lasted four hours and 20 minutes.
The Montreal native hit 58 winners and served 28 aces while Davidovich Fokina hit 51 unforced errors. It is the second time the 21-year-old has reached the last 32 in Melbourne Park in what is his third appearence.
The first game of the match was a nervy one for the world number nine as it lasted six minutes and it involved him saving two breakpoints before being able to hold serve. The opener stayed on serve until 2-2 when the Fokina came up with an impressive passing shot to set up two more chances for the first break of serve of the match and this time managed to convert. Three games later the Canadian fought back and broke right back to go back on serve.
It was a tiebreak which decided the first set. The Montreal native jumped out to a 3-0 lead before the Spaniard came back again to win the next four points but the Canadian responded again winning three straight points to take the breaker 7-4 and the first set.
The second set was another impressive performance on serve by both players and once again was decided by a back and forth breaker that this time was won by Davidovich Fokina to level the match.
The third frame was much the same as both players kept their level up and not much differentiated the two. This tiebreaker was much more straightforward as the Canadian jumped out to a 5-1 lead before closing out the third set 7-5 and taking two sets to one lead.
The fourth set stayed on serve until 2-1 when the world number 50 had a chance to break and was able to get it for a 3-1 lead before the Canadian was able to break back the following game to go back on serve.
For the fourth time, the set was decided by a tiebreaker and this one was super tight with the Canadian getting the crucial break to take a 4-3 lead and that one break was enough for him to serve it out.
Auger Aliassime will now face Dan Evans in the third round after the Brit was handed a walkover against Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech who pulled out of the match due to injury.
‘Best Feeling I’ve Ever Had’ – Underdog Christopher O’Connell Stuns Schwartzman At Australian Open
Prior to this week the 27-year-old had never won a main draw match at Melbourne Park or beaten a top 20 player.
World No.175 Christopher O’Connell has pulled off a major upset at the Australian Open by knocking out 13th seed Diego Schwartzman.
The 27-year-old wild card had only ever won one match in the main draw of a Grand Slam prior to this year but illustrated the talent that he has with a 7-6, 6-4, 6-4, win over Schwartzman. A player who is currently ranked 162 places above him in the rankings. Against the Argentine he fired a total of 44 winners and won 75% of his first service points on route to claiming his first win over a top 20 player.
“It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had on a tennis court. I’ve been playing tennis since I was four. To have moments like this it’s a dream come true.” O’Connell said during his press conference.
Despite the straightforward score, the match itself was a marathon. The opener alone lasted for almost 90 minutes with the underdog saving three set points whilst down 4-5 before prevailing in the tiebreaker. Then in the following two sets he broke Schwartzman three times in total.
“I knew how crucial that first set was. It was really warming up out there. It was really a battle back and forth. It was crucial to get that first set, especially in the heat,” he said.
A late bloomer on the men’s Tour, the Australian started to make a breakthrough last year by reaching his first quarter-final at the Atlanta Open where he defeated Jannik Sinner. During that year he also reached the final of a French Challenger event before withdrawing due to injury and reached the second round of the US Open.
O’Connell, who has been ranked as high as 111th in the world, credits his coach for helping him reach new milestones in the sport. He is mentored by former player Marinko Matosevic who reached a ranking high of 39th back in 2013 and made more than $2M in prize money during his playing career.
“The process didn’t start yesterday. It’s been happening all of last year,” he stated.
“I’ve been working with Marinko. He’s just really confident with how I want to play tennis now. It’s the first time I’ve really had a one-on-one coach literally every day with me.’
“Marinko was such a great player. All his knowledge of the game, he’s just putting it onto me.”
Next up for O’Connell will be the in-form Maxime Cressy who lost to Rafael Nadal in the final of the Melbourne Summer Set just over a week ago. The American defeated Czech qualifier Tomáš Macháč 6-1, 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(5), in his second round match.
“I knew I had good results in me. It’s just being consistent. I felt today was a consistent match from me,” he reflected.
“But the biggest thing for me is just staying healthy, not having these injuries where I miss two months of tournaments. I nearly missed five or six months last year. I can’t be doing that.’
“The belief is always there, but I just got to make sure my body’s healthy this year. I want to play a full year.”
French Player Tests Positive For COVID-19 Hours After Australian Open Defeat
The world No.40 was preparing to leave the country.
Ugo Humbert is in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19 following his first round loss at the Australian Open on Tuesday.
Humbert, who was the 29th seed in the men’s draw, is understood to have produced a positive result during a routine procedure players have to conduct before they leave the country. It is unclear as to if he is currently suffering from any symptoms.
Humbert crashed out of the tournament to compatriot Richard Gasquet, who won their match 3-6, 7-6(4), 7-6 (3), 6-3, in three hours and 18 minutes. Gasquet also tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival in Australia earlier this month but was given the all clear to play at Melbourne Park following a negative test. There was a 15-day period between the 35-year-old announcing on Twitter he had the virus and his first match against Humbert.
“I was tested positive on my exit test yesterday and I’ll stay one more week in isolation in Australia,” Humbert wrote on Instagram.
“Thanks for your support and see you soon.”
The 23-year-old has started his season by winning one out of four matches played. Prior to the Australian Open, he scored one of the biggest wins of his career by defeating Daniil Medvedev at the ATP Cup in the group stages. However, following that victory he suffered losses to Alex de Minaur and Matteo Berrettini.
Tennis Australia is yet to comment on Humbert’s positive test.
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