Spain’s talisman Rafael Nadal sealed a sixth Davis Cup title for his country when they beat Canada 2-0 in the final of the revamped event on last Sunday of November 2019 in Mardrid of Spain. After a week of relentless tension and late-night heroics, it was perhaps asking too much for the first final in the Davis Cup’s new guise to deliver a classic and so it proved as Spain became the last nation standing of the 18 who assembled in Madrid.
Earlier it was expected that the revamped Davis Cup would reach its climax, with Canada celebrating a historic first title or Spain lifting the trophy for the sixth time in front of their fans. After two thrilling semi-finals decided in tiebreakers of the doubles matches, Spain outlasted Britain and Canada upset Russia to play for the title of the new Davis Cup Finals, the World Cup of tennis.
Rafael Nadal won his singles match before teaming up with Feliciano Lopez to secure a dramatic 2-1 win over Britain, putting the hosts in the Davis Cup final for the first time since 2012. The world number one, playing like a man possessed, sent a capacity crowd at the Caja Magica wild as he almost single-handedly hauled his country home and set up a final with Canada in the inaugural edition of the competition. With the semi-final on a knife edge at 1-1 after the singles were shared, Nadal and veteran Lopez came through an electrifying doubles clash against Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski, winning 7-6 (7-3), 7-6 (10-8).
Just as on the previous night against Argentina in the quarter-finals, Nadal first had to win his singles to drag his team level after Lopez was outplayed 6-3, 7-6 by Kyle Edmund. Nadal completed that task with a 6-4, 6-0 win over Dan Evans, and, just like 24 hours earlier, he bounded back on court around half an hour later for a doubles decider.
Murray and Skupski more than held their own in the face of a partisan home crowd and a pumped-up Nadal, but saw a break point come and go in the 11th game of the first set before losing a tie-break. The Britons saw four set points pass them by in the second set, including three in the breaker, with Nadal saving one by producing an incredible lob on the stretch. A place in the final was sealed on a second match point.
“It was an exciting match, almost dramatic,” Nadal expressed. “We played at a high level. We knew the victory would come if we played with determination and hope.” Canada reached their first Davis Cup final after Denis Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil, who have played every rubber for their side this week, beat Russian duo Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov as their semi-final also went to the wire. Pospisil’s run of three straight singles wins here came to an end in the opener against an inspired Rublev, the Russian winning 6-4, 6-4. Shapovalov levelled the tie when he beat Khachanov 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 before the Canadian duo edged the doubles 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (7-5).
“I don’t think any of us expected that we could get this far,” Shapovalov voiced. “You have to have a little bit of luck on your side and just play some ridiculous tennis and play at a ridiculous level. It’s dream to be in the final.”
With Spain’s King Felipe watching on, the 33-year-old Nadal fought off Canadian youngster Denis Shapovalov 6-3, 7-6(7) to give Spain their first title since 2011 in the Davis Cup Finals, the World Cup of tennis. If any player deserved to get his hands on the famous old trophy again, it was Nadal after he worked overtime all week, often into the small hours, to win all eight matches he played. But he surely would have been happy had it been team mate Roberto Bautista Agut to have delivered the winning point. Bautista Agut had given the hosts a flying start, beating Felix Auger-Aliassime 7-6(3), 6-2 after returning to the squad following the death of his father.
“An amazing week in every way,” mentioned Nadal, who has now won 29 successive Davis Cup singles matches since 2004. “The vital person has been Roberto Bautista.” After beating Auger-Aliassime, Bautista Agut was embraced by his captain Sergi Bruguera and there were emotional scenes at the end as roars of “Campiones” echoed around the arena. “It was a dream day and all the team members have made an incredible effort, especially Rafa, going to sleep at three, four and five in the morning and the next day going out to play,” Bautista Agut said. “It can only be because we are Spanish.”
For Gerard Pique, the Barcelona soccer player who has made revamping the Davis Cup into a tennis World Cup his mission, it was the perfect climax to a week in which the new format suffered glitches but could be judged a qualified success. Too many late nights, one session finishing at 4.07am, a complicated group stage and tiny crowds at some ties mean there is still lots to improve if the $80 million Pique’s Kosmos company investing in the event each year is to be sustainable.
But it was felt like an authentic Davis Cup final, even if an appearance from Pique’s pop singer wife Shakira added a little more glamour than usual. Once the tennis began, it quickly became apparent that Canada captain Frank Dancevic’s decision to change his lineup for the first time all week might have backfired.
Vasek Pospisil, ranked 150, had been outstanding all week, beating Italy’s 12th-ranked Fabio Fognini and American Reilly Opelka in the group phase, taking down Australia’s John Millman in the quarter-finals and partnering Shapovalov to a deciding doubles victory over Russia in the semi-final. Auger-Aliassime, who has been out with an ankle injury, was given his first call of the week but was outplayed by a rock-solid Bautista Agut, who rejoined the squad on the previous day. That left Shapovalov seemingly facing “Mission Impossible” and his only chance was Nadal’s tank being dry.
Having come this far, there was no chance Nadal would falter - not with some 25,000 Spaniards roaring at every whipped winner. When he took the opening set with a single break, it was all feeling a little anti-climactic for the neutrals but Shapovalov injected some late drama into the proceedings. The Canadian’s serve began to click and his groundstrokes finally took the zip out of Nadal’s legs.
Incredibly Nadal showed mercy at 6-4 in the tiebreak, failing to put away a short forehand, and Shapovalov arrowed a winner down the line. The Canadian, cheered on by hundreds of his countrymen, saved another match point then had a set point of his own but Nadal averted the danger with a heavy serve. Nadal got to a third match point and this time Shapovalov could not fight back. And the party of the Spaniards rolled on.
The author is a freelance sports journalist. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org