The Canadian Davis Cup team was missing its best resources. So it always was going to be up against it in this weekend’s qualifying tie against the Netherlands.
No Shapovalov, or Auger-Aliassime, or Pospisil (and no Raonic, par for the course in recent years). So the plucky underdog squad of Brayden Schnur, Steven Diez, Peter Polansky and Alexis Galarneau had to try to pull off the upset.
But with Botic Van de Zandschulp (ranked No. 48) at No. 1 and Tallon Griekspoor (No. 54) at No. 2, it was a tall order.
Captain Frank Dancevic quite correctly put out his two best clay-court grinders to compete on the indoor clay the Dutch laid down for the tie.
But it was for naught, as the Netherlands won both rubbers and stand 2-0. The doubles first, and then reverse singles (if necessary) follow Saturday.
The choice of surface helped to slow down the Canadians. But even more, it served to help their own players.
Dutch players successful on Challenger dirt
Griekspoor has played just six of his 31 career matches at the ATP level off the hard courts, and is just 2-2 on red clay. But at the Challenger level, where he would meet players ranked similarly or higher than Diez and Galarneau, the man cut an absolute swath in 2021.
He won eight clay Challengers in 2021 – including five in a row to finish off the season. Along the way, he defeated Diez in three sets once in 2020, and again in 2021. But Diez isn’t playing as well know as he was back then.
Same situation for Van de Zandschulp, who has played 33-of-38 on hard, and is just 2-1 in his career on clay at the ATP Tour level. But at the Challenger level, he has been pretty successful, going 18-7 over a three-month period last summer on the European dirt.
Impressive debut in defeat for Galarneau
Alexis Galarneau, who turned 23 on Wednesday, impressed in his Davis Cup debut. He had some shots against Van de Zandschulp, but bowed out 7-5, 7-6 (9).
Galarneau showed few rookie nerves. And while slightly underpowered at the top level, he displayed great wheels and a variety of tools to win points – notably in the second set when he took the net far more often.
Diez, whose ranking is down to No. 294 and who went down to the ITF $25K level in Turkey last week to get a few matches on the dirt, didn’t appear 100 percent physically against Griekspoor.
The Dutch No. 2 isn’t especially consistent, with patches of brilliant play alternating with patches of error-strewn tennis.
Still, it was a tall order, and Diez fell 6-4, 6-4.
On the plus side, how nice is it to actually see a home-country fan base getting into the spirit of things?
Given the sanitized, neutral-venue competition the Davis Cup has become (where a handful of “neutral” cities will host the finals preliminaries, with the final rounds at a site STILL undetermined), it’s easy to forget what a great event it used to be.