ATP Cup 2022: GB beat USA, but edged out of semis by fine Canadian win over Germany

Shapovalov/Auger-Aliassime beat Zverev’s Germany to top group; will face Russia in semis after Medvedev win over Berrettini

Felix Auger Aliassime
Felix Auger Aliassime (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

The tennis powerhouse that is Spain always looked like the favourite to come through Group A in Sydney this week, even without the super-star, Major-winning power of Rafael Nadal in the line-up.

Sure enough with two former top-10 stalwarts like world No19 Roberto Bautista Agut and No20 Pablo Carreno Busta in their corner, and just one top-20 singles player in each of Norway and Chile—and Serbia without their own superstar, Novak Djokovic—this was a done deal almost from Day 1. Both 30-something Spaniards won all three of their singles matches, and the team dropped only one point in the nine matches played to seal their semi-final place, 8-1.

Perhaps more of a surprise was that Poland became the other team to make it to the semis on a busy Wednesday in humid Sydney. The squad’s singles players were led by one of the most improved men on the tour during 2021, No9 Hubert Hurkacz, but his compatriot, Kamil Majchrzak, ranked only 117, matched Hurkacz with a clean run of three singles wins, as both men topped the strength of Argentina against No13 Diego Schwartzman and No44 Federico Delbonis.

So like Spain, Poland heads to their semi showdown at 8-1 in matches: The Poles conceded just one doubles match.

However, things would go right to the wire come Thursday, when the other two groups played for a place in the other semi-final.

For Group B, it was a straightforward scenario: the winner took all between Russia and Italy.

The Italians appeared to be the favourites in their group at the start of the tournament, fielding as they did No7 Matteo Berrettini, No10 Jannik Sinner, plus singles back-up in the shape of No27 Lorenzo Sonego and No37 Fabio Fognini. Combined with the doubles expertise of Simone Bolelli, this had the makings of a sweep through all three fellow nations.

But it did not start well for Berrettini, who lost both his singles and doubles matches in their opener against Australia. But a 3-0 run against France kept Italy in the hunt, though world No2 Daniil Medvedev, with outstanding backing from No167 Roman Safiullin, edged both their ties and topped the group ahead of the final day of group play.

So could the defending champions, even without two of their top players—Andrey Rublev and Aslan Karatev, sidelined by Covid infections—seal the semi?

On Thursday Medvedev would partner Safiullin again for Russia, while Italy would also pair Berrettini and Sinner. And once Sinner had completed his clean sweep of wins against Safiullin, all eyes turned on Berrettini, who faced Medvedev for the first time since the 2021 ATP Cup final, where the Russian was the 6-4, 6-2 winner to seal the trophy for Russia.

And once again, the US Open champion Medvedev delivered in a three-set thriller that lasted two hours 40 minutes, 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-4, to take the tie to a doubles showdown.

Once there, the four key protagonists partnered up, and again it took three sets for Russia to deny Italy, 5-7, 6-4, 10-5.

But that saw Russia to the semis, but who would they meet there? For while that was unfolding in the Ken Rosewall arena, GB were taking on the USA on the Qudos Bank arena in the knowledge that they had to win to stay in the hunt.

If Cam Norrie and Dan Evans got the better of John Isner and Taylor Fritz—and it was the lower-ranked Evans who had won all three matches played rather than Norrie—the Britons would then have to wait until the evening to see whether Germany could beat Canada and propel GB to the semis.

For if the Canadians, in the shape of their hard-working young stars, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov, beat Alexander Zverev’s Germany, it was the Canadians who headed to the semis.

And Evans, yet again, got GB off to a flying start with an impressive 6-4, 7-6(3) win over Isner, with the British man, a foot shorter than his towering American opponent, out-performing Isner on both first and second serve, and with enough touch, variety and speed to bamboozle the American at key moments.

However, for the third time, Norrie was unable to win his singles match, this time losing in three sets to Taylor Fritz. So the doubles would hold the key once more for GB, and it was Evans who stepped up to play with Jamie Murray for almost two more hours; His reward, though, was to keep GB’s hopes alive, 6-7(3), 7-5, 10-8.

There was no more that live-wire Evans and his fellow Britons could do. Their hopes now depended on Germany beating Canada in a late evening session, a session that began with yet another long tussle between Shapovalov and Jan-Lennard Struff. It took more than two and a half hours and three sets, 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3, for Canada to grab the lead.

Now it was down to Auger-Aliassime to beat Zverev—either in singles or doubles. He had beaten the world No3, Olympic and ATP Finals champion only once in five previous meetings, but this time, he got off to a perfect start with a break in the first game. He went on to seal the set, 6-4, and although Zverev levelled things in the second, 4-6, the 21-year-old Canadian lived with the powerful play of the German to 3-3 in the third, before breaking in the seventh game.

From there on, Auger-Aliassime played near flawless tennis, using power, depth and angles to dominate Zverev for the win, 6-3, after more than two and a half hours.

And so it is Canada who will take on Russia come Saturday, and perhaps now with the edge, for both Auger-Aliassime and Shapovalov have increasingly risen to the challenges as the week has worn on, and have also proven themselves a formidable doubles pairing. And while Medvedev has seen his lower-ranked compatriot Roman Safiullin play well above his No167, the pressure will surely now begin to tell as Russia rue the absence of Rublev and Karatsev.

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