September 21, 2023

Open Court


Canada sweeps Italy in their first Finals group-stage tie. (Pic: Tennis Canada/Martin Sidorjak)

Underdogs? That was understating the case for Canada against Italy in its opening group-stage tie at the Davis Cup finals Wedneday.

And yet, Davis Cup can produce unlikely champions and outsized performances. So the straight-sets victories by Quebecers Alexis Galarneau and Gabriel Diallo against No. 38 Lorenzo Sonego and No. 18 Lorenzo Musetti, respectively, will go down in Davis Cup lore.

And a comeback victory in doubles by first-time partners Galarneau and Vasek Pospisil capped off an incredible day in Bologna, with the 3-0 victory keeping Canada atop the Group A standings.

(All photos in these galleries are by Martin Sidorjak of Tennis Canada).

For Galarneau, who made his US Open debut three weeks ago but lost in the first round of qualifying, the 7-6 (8), 6-4 triumphs was the first top-50 win of his career, against only the second top-50 player he has faced in his career.

The only other player even in the top 150 that Galarneau had played in 2023 was in the first round of Australian Open qualifying back in January, where he defeated No. 149 Ryan Peniston.

“Really thankful just for the opportunity that my captain gave me, believing in me, believing I could come here to Italy and compete hard,” Galarneau said in his on-court interview after the win. “That’s tennis You got to expect some up and downs. Luckily I didn’t have too many downs, more ups. Thanks to my teammates I was able to not get too down on myself.”

One down, and big-serving Gabriel Diallo up against Italian No. 1 Lorenzo Musetti.

Mission accomplished again, as Musetti – six months younger than Diallo, but who reached the top 15 in the ATP Tour rankings this summer – couldn’t even earn a break point in Diallo’s 7-5, 6-4 win.

Diallo had 10 aces, no double faults, and lost just two points on his first serve playing on a quick court that most definitely suited his game.

He also lost just 5-of-20 points on second serve, and was 2-for-3 on break points against Musetti’s serve.

“Happy with the way I competed. (In) tennis, sometimes it’s going to be a good day, sometimes a bad day,” Diallo said. “Today I was sharp with my serve, sharp with my forehand. My mindset was on point, trying to dictate the point. And when I had a chance, I took it.”

Initial Italian lineup fell away

When the nominations came out for these group-stage ties, home nation Italy looked pretty unbeatable.

They are pretty much the premier nation in men’s tennis at the moment, with both high-ranked players and depth.

The Italians have 17 players inside the top 200; the Canadians have four.

At No. 18 and No. 38, Musetti and Sonego might not even have seen the court – at least not in singles – in the original lineup.

But Jannik Sinner, No. 7 in the world, begged off. Matteo Berrettini, a former Wimbledon finalist who was No. 6 in the world in 2022, was just coming back to good health after a star-crossed year when he rolled his ankle at the US Open. He was forced to retire from his match Arthur Rinderknech of France, and pulled out of Davis Cup.

That will take the wind out of your sails. And the two Lorenzos are not yet at the stage of their careers where they are reliable performers in Davis Cup.

Those nerves showed.

The Canadians, who spoke often this week of all the pressure being off as the actual Davis Cup accompanied them to Bologna after a summer-long tour back home, played as if their shoulders were both weightless and loose.

“I think he played the best match of his entire life. I was fighting every point and I tried to do my best and change some solutions, but today it was really tough to play against him,” Sonego said of Galarneau.

Doubles completes the sweep

In Davis Cup, every match win might be meaningful at the end, to determine the top two teams in the pool who make it to the FINAL finals in Malagá.

So there would be no substitutes in the doubles where Pospisil, a sleeve on his right arm, did something he has hardly done in recent years as he’s battled injuries but is inarguably excellent at: playing doubles.

Pospisil has played with many partners during his stellar Davis Cup career. But his only outing with Galarneau came a year ago against Serbia, when they retired at 1-2 in the first set.

Galarneau is a good doubles player; he made the final of a Challenger last May in Arkansas. But he’s ranked outside the top 400 and hasn’t played all that much in recent months.

But on the Italian side, the cupboard was suddenly bare.

Veteran Fabio Fognini, who has had big success both in Davis Cup and on the ATP Tour with his peer Simone Bolelli, was left off the squad for the tie in Bologna, apparently much to his surprise. He had been playing a Challenger in Genoa last week (in which he reached the final), when he got the news. And he had things to say.

Whatever you might say about the guy – and of course he’s not what he once was – Fognini has heeded the call of his country. Except for the pandemic year, Fognini has played Davis Cup every single year since 2008, without fail.

In his absence, the Italians counted on Bolelli and 22-year-old Matteo Arnaldi, ranked No. 579 in doubles and making his Davis Cup debut.

So in the end, it was a pick-em match on a few levels – with the deal-breaker being Pospisil’s superior and decorated experience in doubles even if it was clear he wasn’t feeling his best.

“I think I have some of the most special memories in the sport playing Davis Cup for Canada. From a young age it’s been a dream for me to event be part of it and that dream came true at the age of 17,” Pospisil said in the media conference. “To be able to hoist the trophy last year was such a special moment. It’s hands down my favourite event in tennis and we have great guys with us that makes it a lot more fun.”

Dicey Doubles Decisions

It was the second straight doubles call involving the Italians against the Canadians.

And the first one might well have paved the way to Canada’s winning the Davis Cup a year ago.

Bolelli and Fognini had just beaten Americans Tommy Paul and Jack Sock in the quarterfinals of the finals when you expected them to come up against Canada in the semifinals.

The Italians didn’t have Sinner once again. And Berrettini wasn’t at 100 per cent. But Sonego came up big with a marathon win over Denis Shapovalov. Auger-Aliassime defeated Musetti.

And it came down to the doubles.

The Italians chose to swap in Berrettini (a far less accomplished doubles player) for Bolelli. Pospisil and Auger-Aliassime pulled out a 7-6 (2), 7-5 win and went on to easily defeat Australia in the final.

Will a similar decision this time end up with the Canadians going on to do big things again in 2023?

Time will tell.

What’s Next? Sweden

The two remaining ties this week in Bologna are going to pose challenges of their own.

While the crowds were there in force for Team Italy, they have not been there most of the time at the Davis Cup venues for “neutral venue” teams – note the few hundred who showed up in Manchester Tuesday for a fine tie between France and Switzerland.

On Thursday, Canada plays Sweden, which was swept by Chile in the other Group A tie on Tuesday.

Sweden is without its top player, Mikael Ymer, who was suspended by the ITIA for “whereabouts rules” violations and subsequently announced his retirement at age 25.

His big brother Elias, ranked No. 175, is the No. 1. The only other viable tennis player they have is … Leo Borg.

Yes, that Leo Borg, the 20-year-old son of Bjorn, currently ranked at a career high No. 334 after a season spent mostly at the ITF level.

But Borg, who made his Davis Cup debut Tuesday, took Cristian Garin of Chile to the limit, going down 7-6 (6), 3-6, 7-5.

“It was just a great team effort overall to get through today against Italy – such a tough team and home crowd,” Canadian captain Frank Dancevic told the media. “We saw Borg play an amazing match against Garin the other day. And Ymer’s a tough player … so we know we have a very tough match tomorrow. But, you know, we have good team spirit we have to try to keep the momentum going for tomorrow.”

Galarneau, who was the major underdog against Sonego, will be a big favorite on paper against Borg while Diallo will be a slight favorite at best against Ymer, who does have a lot more experience.

It will be a very different dynamic. And after the high of beating Italy, an interesting challenge to essentially get back to their regularly scheduled programming.

About Post Author