Canada thrived in the last tennis event of the 2010s; bring on the 2020s

Matt Zemek Nov 26, 2019
Canada --

Does the fact that Canada made its first Davis Cup final-round appearance in 2019 mean that the 2020s will be a decade of Canadian conquest in tennis? Not necessarily.

The Big 3 — Djokovic, Nadal, Federer — are still around, and Djokovic could play nearly the full decade if he wants to and his body holds up. Stefanos Tsitsipas won the ATP Finals and figures to be a force the whole decade. Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev could be similarly strong for a long time.

Nothing is promised, nothing is guaranteed, to Canadian male tennis players. They have a steep hill to climb, a lot of work to do. We don’t need to get ahead of ourselves here.

However, reaching the final round of the newly-configured Davis Cup in Madrid (some would call it the Pique Cup, and I am part of that group) certainly plants a seed of hope in the Spanish ground, and elsewhere around the world.

The Canadians played in what was a neutral-site event. Pique Cup — a significant revision of the old Davis Cup format — put 18 nations in Spain to vie for the Davis Cup over the course of a full week of tennis. Canada played legitimate neutral-site ties (that’s what a nation-versus-nation Davis Cup competition is called) through the semifinals. It defeated Russia in the semifinals after handling Australia in the quarterfinals.

In the final, it didn’t have that luxury. Spain, the host nation, was there on the other side of the net in Sunday’s last round. A guy named Rafael Nadal was there. So was a top-10 player, Roberto Bautista-Agut.

Nadal and Bautista-Agut both showed their best stuff. Felix (against Bautista) and Shapo (versus Nadal) both gave it their all in legitimately tough matches. Yet, the Spaniards were better. They also had the crowd at their back. So it goes.

The Canadians had nothing to regret.

Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime thoroughly enjoyed their week, carrying the flame formidably into the future for Canadian tennis. Yet, an account of the past week in Spain would be incomplete without noting that Vasek Pospisil played his best tennis to catapult Canada to the final.

Davis Cup play places importance on doubles, one of the event’s charms. Pospisil’s quality in that theater of competition was essential in Canada’s run to the final. That part of the story can’t be minimized.

It remains, however, that with so much good, young talent in Canadian tennis, this burst of quality in Madrid is significant not for what it guarantees, but for the possibilities it suggests.

Bianca Andreescu has already made a very resonant global statement about the high ceiling Canadian tennis owns. She is the foremost reason to think that the 2020s could be a special time for tennis in Canada.

The 2019 Davis Cup offered a reminder that men’s tennis could be something special as well.

This is not to say — or imply — that Milos Raonic making the 2016 Wimbledon men’s final WASN’T special. It was, and I am determined to make sure Raonic does not become a forgotten figure in the history of Canadian tennis. (Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I don’t dismiss Milos.)

Nevertheless, Felix and Shapo are electric, young players with eye-pleasing games. They got a taste of championship pressure in Spain.

Hopefully, it is but the first taste of championship-round tennis they will have on a large global stage.

Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek has written about tennis professionally since 2014 for multiple outlets. He is currently the editor of and the co-manager of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Tennis With An Accent blends Saqib Ali's podcasts with written coverage of professional tennis. The TWAA Podcast hosted Darren Cahill earlier this year. The podcast is distributed by Red Circle and is available on Stitcher, Google Podcasts, and Apple Podcasts. See Matt's pinned tweet on his Twitter page for links to the TWAA Podcast. Matt is based in Phoenix and thinks the Raptors winning the NBA title was awesome. Saqib will be covering Montreal for Tennis With An Accent.

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