The Canadian men's tennis team has pulled off back-to-back-to-back upsets to reach the semifinals of the Davis Cup. That's a rare feat for this country. Here are the big takeaways from what we've seen so far and what to expect as the tournament reaches its conclusion this weekend:
What a run Canada is on
It came into the final round of the Davis Cup, which is playing out under a new format this week in Madrid, ranked 14th. But Canada knocked off No. 10 Italy and the No. 6 United States to win its group, thanks to Vasek Pospisil and Denis Shapovalov winning their singles matches in both contests.
The upset streak continued in yesterday's quarter-finals vs. No. 9 Australia. Pospisil won again, but Shapovalov lost, forcing a doubles rubber match to decide the best-of-three contest. Despite the fatigue factor, those guys stayed on the court and came through with a straight-sets win over a pair of fresh Aussies. That victory put Canada into the Davis Cup semifinals for only the third time ever — with a chance to truly reach the final for the very first time.
Pospisil is the story of the tournament for Canada
The 29-year-old has been ranked as high as 25th in the world, but he's way down to 150th now after back surgery cost him a big chunk of this season. But he's beaten No. 12 Fabio Fognini of Italy, No. 36 Reilly Opelka of the U.S. and No. 48 John Millman of Australia this week.
Shapovalov had higher expectations because he's the top-ranked Canadian at No. 15. But give him credit too: he took out No. 8 Matteo Berrettini and No. 32 Taylor Fritz before losing to No. 18 Alex de Minaur in the quarters.
Making the semifinals is a big deal for a few reasons
First, it guarantees Canada a spot in this 18-team final round next year. Also, it matches Canada's best finish in the 119-year history of the Davis Cup. The 2013 team lost to Serbia. The 1913 team technically made it to the final (where it lost to the U.S.), but back in those days the winner of the tournament went on to challenge the previous year's champion for the Cup. So, really, the "final" was actually the semifinal.
Canada's opponent in the semis is Russia
They won a dramatic quarter-final today vs. the great Novak Djokovic and his Serbia team. It went all the way down to a tiebreaker in the final set of the doubles rubber match, and Russia survived three match points to win it. The Canada-Russia semifinal starts Saturday at 4:30 a.m. ET. Sportsnet is showing it.
What's Russia's story?
They're ranked 21st, so this is the first time in the tournament that Canada will face a lower-seeded team. Russia has won the Davis Cup three times, but not since 2006.
The current team's best player is Karen Khachanov, who's ranked 17th in the world in singles. Andrey Rublev is 23rd. Those are the only two players Russia has used all week — for singles and doubles. The other guy on the roster is 113th-ranked Evgeny Donskoy, but he hasn't seen any action this week. No. 5 Daniil Medvedev was supposed to be here, but he pulled out a few days before the tournament.
How do the Canadians stack up?
We'll assume Russia continues to use Rublev and Khachanov — in that order — for the singles matches. That's what they've done all week, so they'll probably stick with it. Canada is likely to do the same with Pospisil and Shapovalov. Pospisil has faced Rublev only once before — at a tournament in Miami in 2018. Pospisil won in straight sets. Shapovalov and Khachanov have never met.
So what are Canada's chances of beating Russia?
You'd think the higher-ranked team would be the favourite. But the gambling market always does a better job of telling us the truth. The odds posted by the bookmaker Pinnacle imply Canada has about a 42 per cent chance of winning this matchup. Looking at the individual singles matches, Pinnacle has Pospisil as a big underdog against Rublev, and Shapovalov as a very slight dog vs. Khachanov.
Canada has an x-factor
Its second-highest ranked player, No. 21 Felix Auger-Aliassime, has yet to play this week. He's available, but captain Frank Dancevic decided not to use him in the opener because he might be a little rusty coming back from an ankle injury. Then Pospisil and Shapovalov played so well that Felix stayed on the bench. It's hard to see Dancevic not sticking with the hot hands as long as Pospisil and Shapo are feeling alright after that gruelling quarter-final.
If Canada wins, who might it face in the final?
The two remaining quarter-finals were still being played at our publish time. The matchups there are Great Britain vs. Germany and Argentina vs. Spain. The only real big-name player involved in those is Spain's Rafael Nadal. The winners will face each other in the semis, and the winner of that plays the Canada-Russia winner in the final, which is Sunday at 10 a.m. ET.
In case you need a refresher, here's how the Davis Cup works
Before this year, teams would meet up to face each in different parts of the world right down to the final matchup. But this year, the top 18 teams were invited to Madrid to play the final round in the span of one week. They're billing this as "the World Cup of tennis," and the new format is similar to the big soccer tournament's. The teams were divided into six groups of three for round-robin play. The winner of each group advanced to the quarter-finals along with the two best second-place teams. From that point on, it became single-elimination.
Each matchup between two countries (they call that a "tie") is a best of three matches. The first two are singles. If one team wins both, it's over. If the teams split the singles matches, then they play a doubles match to decide who advances. All the matches are best-of-three sets. The team captain can use the same two players who played singles for the doubles match, or he can bring in fresh players.
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