On Tuesday, Team Canada presented by Sobeys will take another step towards something never before seen in the history of Canadian tennis.
The title defence ramps up when Canada clashes with Finland on Tuesday in a do-or-die quarter-final to kick-off the Final 8 of the Davis Cup in Malaga.
While the team knows that becoming the first country in a decade to repeat as champions will not be easy, it is not affecting their mindset heading into the week.
“It feels amazing for the guys to be together again. 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,” explained captain Frank Dancevic in the team’s introductory press conference.
“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 percent again. I feel like this year we are focused, but we are also more relaxed knowing that we had the trophy. We’re going into this tie sort of relaxed, obviously having the confidence that we have done it recently, and we have the capabilities to do it again in the near future”
For Felix Auger-Aliassime, who played the best tennis of his career last fall including during the title run in Malaga, the return to the south of Spain is a welcome one.
“It was special to see the court again. It was such a special moment for me personally last year, winning the last match to clinch the title,” said the Canadian No. 1. “It’s always nice to be back. Better for me to be back as reigning champions. It’s nice to come back to a place where you have good memories, and hopefully that can serve us well this week.”
Four of the five members of Canada’s championship-winning squad are back: Auger-Aliassime, Gabriel Diallo, Alexis Galarneau, and Vasek Pospisil.
The one “new” member of the team is a familiar face, that being veteran Milos Raonic who is playing his making his first appearance for the national team since 2018.
Three of the members of this Canadian squad had never played a match for Team Canada the last time the missile from Thornhill donned the red and white (Galarneau, Diallo, and Auger-Aliassime who was nominated at that 2018 tie but did not play his first match for Canada until the following year).
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“It’s a great pleasure to be back with these guys. What they did last year was incredibly inspiring,” said Raonic. “Whatever I can do to help, it would be the greatest pleasure for me.”
Canada comes into the Davis Cup not just ranked No. 1 on the men’s side, but on the women’s as well after the Billie Jean King Cup triumph earlier in November. Canada are currently the sixth nation to simultaneously hold both titles.
For the older players on the team like Raonic and Pospisil, that’s something that seemed unimaginable not too long ago.
“It’s an incredible period for tennis in Canada right now. We have kind of been building to this moment over the last 12, 13, 14 years, or even prior to that,” expressed Pospisil. “I feel like every couple years we have had something, get a better achievement on the big stage. Semis 2013 with Milos and Daniel [Nestor] and Frank. It’s incredible.”
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Even the youngsters appreciate how big a deal Canada’s current run of success is.
As Auger-Aliassime expressed, “growing up that seemed very far away, and I think for Vasek, Milos, and Frank, when they were playing, it was something tough to imagine. It speaks to how much we’ve grown as a country in this sport. It was great to see the depth they [the women’s team] have as well with Marina [Stakusic] coming in and playing amazing tennis in her first Billie Jean King Cup. It shows that it’s not just a few good players. There are many good players in our group.”
The Canadian No. 1 also quipped that the women’s victory added motivation for the men’s team, saying “That it happens just before we go for the Davis Cup, they’re putting the pressure on us now, which is good. It’s good to have both men’s and women’s tennis in our country both pushing each other to the highest ranking. It’s a beautiful thing to think that we have both men and women No. 1.”
Now the men have to do their part to ensure that Canada remains the unified champions for another 12 months, and that means becoming the first team to repeat as Davis Cup champions since Czechia in 2012-2013.
“We got here early. We’re preparing, trying to be as ready as we can be and keep the energy going from last year’s trophy win,” said Dancevic.
The campaign picks up on Tuesday at 4:00 pm local in Malaga, 10:00 am EST, against Finland.