February 19, 2024

Open Court

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Veteran Stevenson joins Canadian Davis Cup squad (UPDATED)

There will be a new face in the Canadian Davis Cup entourage for the finals group stages next week in Bologna, Italy.

Open Court has learned that 33-year-old Kelsey Stevenson joined the team this weekend.

Toronto born, China- and Thailand-raised but a citizen of the world as he has crisscrossed the planet’s tennis courts for the last 15 years, Stevenson was expected to be a hitting partner – not a full member of the squad.

Which might have explained why, of all the additional players who might have joined Denis Shapovalov, Gabriel Diallo, Vasek Pospisil, Alexis Galarneau, he got the nod.

But Open Court learned Sunday that Stevenson will be, in fact, a full playing member. Which means he’ll earn a minimum of about $40,000 US just for being on the team, even if he doesn’t play a point.

That is nearly half what he has made his entire career. So it’s a great break for him.

He is, to be fair, the third highest-ranked Canadian doubles player after Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime (who are tied for No. 202), a ranking helped by the fact that he has 38 (!!!) tournaments on his resumé the last 52 weeks, 25 of then from January through mid-August this year.

(The Davis Cup website has Auger-Aliassime added as a fifth player, but that’s inaccurate).

Shapovalov is only expected to arrive in Bologna on Monday. We’re told he’ll be accompanied by longtime Canadian Davis Cup player Peter Polansky, who was Shapovalov’s personal coach for the first half of the 2023 season.

Stevenson on court at the Granby Challenger in 2022.

A lot of dynamics at play

Davis Cup dynamics are complicated – even more so these days because of the significant amount of money at stake for those who play.

That’s one reason that even though the rules allow teams to nominate five players, the reigning Davis Cup champions have generally gone with four; that splits the kitty four ways instead of five.

There is also the matter of who gets along with whom.

So the news that Stevenson has officially been added is likely to come as a shock to other Canadian players.

There certainly are players far more highly ranked than Stevenson – who has become a doubles specialist in the last year or two and plays the singles qualifying when there are spots, but whose career high-ranking in singles was No. 654 in 2020 – who would have answered the call.

Among them are Brayden Schnur, who is returning from a long injury break but who represented in 2021 and 2022. And there is Steven Diez (the next highest-ranked player behind those already on the squad), who is just getting back to good health and is playing Challengers in Europe. Diez also represented Canada in 2021 and 2022.

And there are up-and-comers like Liam Draxl and Justin Boulais, who have or are wrapping up their college tennis and are looking to make their way up the rankings. They may well be part of the depth on the squad in coming years and could use the experience.

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Health questions on Team Canada

The team in Bologna, in a pool with host nation Italy, Chile and Sweden, is likely to face its share of challenges on the health front.

Auger-Aliassime, who is playing Laver Cup the following week, opted to take the time to rest and recharge for the last part of the season after a tough summer.

Denis Shapovalov, who told Open Court in New York that his knee was still sore, hasn’t played since losing in the fourth round of Wimbledon on grass.

Canada No. 1 Denis Shapovalov was at the US Open this year – but only to support fiancée Mirjam Bjorklund. He hasn’t played since Wimbledon.

It would be a shocker if he played. But you’d have to think he might at least to give it a go, with the opener against Italy a serious uphill battle anyway.

Pospisil, we’re told, has an elbow that is barking at him even if he impressed mightily in a marathon first-round qualifying victory over quality opponent Pedro Martinez at the US Open.

So Diallo and Galarneau look set to take on yeoman’s work this week. Neither has played since losing in the first round of US Open qualifying nearly three weeks ago.

Stevenson – a friend to everyone

Regular readers of our “Canucks This Week” post have seen Stevenson’s name in the results more weeks than not.

He’s in the same 1990 class that spawned both Pospisil and Milos Raonic although he moved to China when he was four and then to Thailand, where he first picked up tennis and where he has spent much of his tennis vagabond’s life.

We caught up with him a year ago, at the Granby Challenger. Absolutely delightful fellow with a movie-star smile who basically was just spreading sunshine everywhere he went the day we met him. He just seemed imbued with an innate joie de vivre that no doubt has served him well in his career.

Here’s a little slice of his journey.

Since deciding to focus on doubles, Stevenson got within a few points of breaking into the top 200 in doubles just two months ago, and is currently ranked No. 244.

He has three Challenger semifinals on his resumé this season playing with various partners, and won the Winnipeg Challenger in 2022 with Brit Billy Harris.

Stevenson is wiry and quick, with a stylish-looking one-handed backhand.

Here’s a look at him on court.

In the end, it’s a win-win for Stevenson, who will get to practice with better players and soak in some big-league atmosphere at Davis Cup after 15 years of toiling in the trenches.

And there’s no doubt he’ll keep the mood light and positive.

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