SYDNEY, Australia – Without Félix Auger-Aliassime in the lineup for singles, it was always going to be a tall order for Canada to make more team-event magic at the United Cup.
But stranger things have happened. And with the abbreviated tie formulas that were a big help both in Davis Cup and BJK Cup happening for United Cup this year, there was always hope.
The abbreviated format penalized teams like the U.S., the defending champions, who have the personnel to stock top players at both the No. 1 and No. 2 singles spots (and the doubles), the way it was set up a year ago.
The duo of Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov was a strong one in 2022, helping Canada to the ATP Cup title.
But without Auger-Aliassime ready to go in Sydney this week, there was only so much Leylah Fernandez could do to try to score four.
Good team bonding time
Whatever happened on court, this group – most of whom probably didn’t know each other very well from the start – seemed to create a nice chemistry and have a good time together.
It probably helps that they’re all good people, including captain Adil Shamasdin.
Here they are at the baths, bonding.
1-1 in group phase not good enough
Canada defeated Chile in its first group-phase tie. But up against Greece and with Stefanos Tsitsipas making his singles debut in the second tie, it was a lot.
Steven Diez – a late substitute for Alexis Galarneau, who will miss the entire Australian swing – was less than 100 per cent physically. But even at 150 per cent it would have been a tall order.
He fell, 6-2, 6-3. Here’s what it looked like.
After that, though, Fernandez had her chances against Maria Sakkari.
Up in both sets, with set points in the first one, she let her opportunities slip away in a 7-6 (2), 6-3 loss that sealed the deal – more or less, there was some math involved – for Greece.
The match was highly entertaining for the fans. And both Fernandez and Sakkari urged them on.
Fernandez even pulled out the “Statue of Ley-berty” play from her run to the 2021 US Open final.
But afterwards, she couldn’t have been more displeased with her execution, even for the first week of the season.
“The crowd really liked it. Which was great. But I’d rather win and also have the public enjoy it. The truth is that it wasn’t good tennis. I worked on specific things during the preseason. I had long practices, and unfortunately I wasn’t able to execute today when it counted – on set points, on break points,” she told Open Court. “I started well in the first, up 3-1 in the second. But I let my opportunities get away from me. I didn’t put in the necessary intensity to finish the game, finish the set. But I’m happy I was able to see that now, and we’ll know what to work on for the next few weeks before the Australian Open.”
Here’s what it looked like. The crowd really did get into it, with the Canadians fans perhaps a smaller group than the Greeks, but nearly as loud.
For FAA, the win was getting on court
The outcome of the tie against Greece was decided before the mixed doubles was played, so no need for Fernandez to come back for double-duty.
Just before the tie began, Auger-Aliassime was out in the rain practicing with Sydney native James McCabe (who notably was on court in Brisbane against Dominic Thiem during the SNAKE ATTACK, and almost beat him).
He told Open Court that he was going to play the mixed. And in the end, he did.
Vancouver’s Stacey Fung also got a chance to play a match, after playing cheerleader during the week and also practicing a lot with Fernandez.
In the end, though, it was a Greek sweep, as they swept the Canadians out of the tournament.
“It was good to at least be able to play a match, be on the court in a competitive way beyond the practices. And that’s what I wanted today,” said Auger-Aliassime, who said the verdict on his left knee was positive.
“Before leaving for Australia I wasn’t even sure I would participate here. I knew I probably wouldn’t be ready for the first match anyway, which was the case., but maybe the second day. I wanted to maybe start with the mixed because I didn’t want to get on court for singles and find out after a set that it wasn’t going well and I couldn’t finish the match,” he added. “I’ve tried to learned from the past , to prepare well, to be patient. But if all goes well I should be able to play the way I want to in Auckland.”
Fernandez was entered in the Adelaide tournament. And the way things shook out she would have squeaked into the main draw in the end (it had a pretty high cutoff originally).
But she opted to withdraw from there in favour of a week of practice in Melbourne.
For Auger-Aliassime, two high-seed withdrawals in Auckland meant he squeezed into the No. 4 seed spot. Which means he gets a first-round bye and will face either Daniel Altmaier or Marcos Giron in the second round.
Fernandez should squeeze into the 32nd and final seeded slot in Melbourne, with the absences ahead of her (Muchova, Keys, Kvitova, Bencic – two of whom are pregnant). That will definitely help her get a better draw.
Auger-Aliassime will also be seeded. No one ahead of him has withdrawn yet, so he’ll probably be the No. 27 seed.