Canada awaits its ATP Cup fate – and the stars align as Sydney is next

(Update: at 12:09 a.m. Thursday morning, Argentina came back from a set down to pull off an upset in the doubles against Croatia. The country’s (unlikely) 3-0 sweep meant that it not only won its group – it eliminated Croatia and allowed Canada to qualify as the 8th team for the knockout round in Sydney).

BRISBANE, Australia – There were a few matches that might have gone the other way during Canada’s round-robin effort at the new ATP Cup.

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And it would have made the final day of the preliminaries on Wednesday a lot less suspenseful for Team Canada.

The team finished off in style with a victory Tuesday afternoon over a currently lost-at-sea Alexander Zverev and Team Germany.

It came down the doubles, where Félix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov took care of 2019 French Open champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies in two close sets.

It gave them a 2-1 win in the tie. And overall, Canada won five matches and lost four.

But there were quite a few other teams in the same boat. So on Wednesday, they had to wait for the outcome of several other ties to determine if they would be travelling to Sydney as part of the “final eight”.

Australia won their group, Group F. So the best Canada could hope for was one of the two “lucky-loser” spots that will be added to the six group winners to make up the final knockout phase.

Early Wednesday, Austria was eliminated from contention when it lost its first rubber to Poland.

Japan needed to sweep

Later on Wednesday, Japan looked to … not get swept by Spain. If the team – thriving despite the absence of No. 1 Kei Nishikori – could do that, it would eliminate Canada.

Spain took care of the first rubber, as Roberto Bautista-Agut defeated Go Soeda in the first match.

Rafael Nadal played a patchy match against Japanese No. 1 Yoshihito Nishioka. But he got through in straight sets.

And then, even though Spain had already qualified for Sydney and there was nothing but pride (and perhaps a few ATP doubles rankings points) at stake, Nadal came back out in short order to partner Pablo Carreño Busta in the doubles.

And they won that as well. That eliminated Japan as a rival for the spot Canada coveted.

Late night in Brisbane

Sydney
Pressed into service, playing captain Gilles Simon came through for France against South Africa Wednesday in Brisbane. (TennisTV)

Still, in the night session, there were three more teams that could knock Canada out.

France faced South Africa in Brisbane. One of those teams had to sweep the other 3-0 to advance to Sydney, and eliminate Canada.

And – in that very French way – a little 11th-hour drama.

Gaël Monfils, who suffered a hand injury during his preseason, didn’t feel he could go in a matchup of No. 1s that would have pitted him against Kevin Anderson.

And so, playing captain Gilles Simon – who had no intention of playing this week – was pressed into service at the last minute. At No. 1, that would promote regular No. 2 Benoit Paire to the No. 1 singles slot against Anderson.

Simon, whose best preparation was a practice match against Serbian veteran Viktor Troicki the previous day, stuck an ATP Cup patch on his khaki adidas shirt from last fall, and went out and wore down South African No. 2 Lloyd Harris 2-6, 6-2, 6-2.

“Fifteen minutes before the match, I didn’t know I would play,” Simon said. “I had a tough week. Being captain I spent a lot of time here (on the bench), I lost a lot of energy, and didn’t have much time to practice.”

Argentina trying to play spoiler

That victory eliminated South Africa from contention, because they could no longer sweep.

And so, it was up to France to try to help Paire to a win over Anderson.

It helped Paire – and didn’t help Anderson – that the South African came out already knowing he couldn’t get his team to Sydney.

Still, with Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the doubles, and only one top-class doubles specialist on the South African squad, it was the tougher test of the two.

Paire was fairly hot and bothered – and he found himself with “two” captains on his bench – both Simon and Monfils. 

Meanwhile, in Sydney, the tie between Croatia and Argentina also contributed to the last-minute drama.

A 2-1 win by Argentina would eliminate Canada, because Croatia would take one of the “lucky loser spots”. Any other outcome, and Canada would head to Sydney.

(That would also affect the fates of Belgium and/or France on the percentage of sets won. But that’s a whole other category of drama).

Guido Pella got Argentina off to a good start with a win over Marin Cilic.

Then Diego Schwartzman crushed Borna Coric.

So Argentina thus won the group.

The doubles was meaningless to them, but meaningful for Croatia, which could still advance if they won it (and eliminate Canada in the process).

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