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Defending Champions: Canada to meet Finland in Davis Cup Final 8 opener



MÁLAGA, Spain — The Canadian tennis teams are on top of the world as reigning champions of both the Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup. Now it’s time for a fresh challenge: a successful title defence.

MÁLAGA, Spain — The Canadian tennis teams are on top of the world as reigning champions of both the Davis Cup and the Billie Jean King Cup.

Now it’s time for a fresh challenge: a successful title defence.

Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime will lead the Canadian men’s squad this week at Malaga’s Martin Carpena Arena for the Davis Cup’s Final 8 knockout stage. Canada will open play on the indoor hardcourt on Tuesday against Finland.

“Everybody has belief in their teammates, that they’re able to win any given match,” Auger-Aliassime said at the pre-tournament media availability. “We just have to take it one by one. It’s a separate tournament than the rest of the tour. That’s why you always see surprises sometimes in Davis Cup.

“There is an energy. So regardless of what happens throughout the year, I think we’ve just got to come with the same level of confidence in yourself and your team.”

Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., led the Canadian team to its first-ever Davis Cup title last year with a win over Australia in the final. Shapovalov is not playing this week as he’s still recovering from a knee injury.

Montreal’s Gabriel Diallo and Alexis Galarneau of Laval, Que., who helped the team to victory over Italy in the Group Stage last September, are also on the Canadian roster along with veterans Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C., and Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont.

“Feels amazing for the guys to be together again,” said captain Frank Dancevic. “We don’t really feel that much pressure, to be honest. I think that the win was really big for us to get the trophy. Of course it would be great to get it again, to win it this year.

“We’re not going to hold back. We’re going to go 110 per cent again.”

The Canadian women’s team, anchored by Leylah Fernandez, secured its first Billie Jean King Cup title earlier this month in Spain.

“It’s good to have both men’s and women’s tennis in our country both pushing each other to the highest ranking,” Auger-Aliassime said. “It’s a beautiful thing. For me, growing up that seemed very far away. It speaks to how much we’ve grown as a country in this sport.”

Galarneau and Pospisil teamed up to win all three of their doubles matches in September.

“It’s an incredible period for tennis in Canada right now,” Pospisil said.

Auger-Aliassime reached a career-best No. 6 on the ATP Tour’s singles rankings last year but has slipped to No. 29 after a middling season. However, he showed strong form in successfully defending his Swiss Indoors title last month in Basel.

Diallo is ranked 139th in the world and Galarneau holds the No. 203 position. Raonic, meanwhile, returned to the Tour this season after an extended injury absence.

The former world No. 3 showed he can still hang at the top level last summer when he upset American Frances Tiafoe — then ranked 10th in the world — at the National Bank Open in Toronto. Raonic’s ranking, which tumbled significantly before his return, is currently at No. 318.

Finland, meanwhile, is making its first Davis Cup quarterfinal appearance.

At No. 69, Emil Ruusuvuori is the lone top-100 player in the lineup. World No. 171 Otto Virtanen is also expected to see singles action and Harri Heliovaara — ranked 29th in doubles — provides depth if the best-of-three tie goes the distance.

The winning team will advance to Friday’s semifinal against the winner of Wednesday’s quarterfinal between Czechia and Australia. In the bottom half of the Final 8 draw, Italy will play the Netherlands and Serbia will take on Britain.

The final is scheduled for Sunday.

Canada beat Finland 4-1 in 1966 on outdoor clay at Helsinki in their only previous Davis Cup matchup.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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