Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime stormed through a gripping clash with Spanish star Roberto Bautista Agut for a massive victory that earned his country a maiden ATP Cup title on Sunday.
Their Sydney showdown followed Denis Shapovalov ending Pablo Carreno Busta’s winning start to the season 6-4, 6-3 to set the scene for a crunch second singles rubber.
World No. 11 Auger-Aliassime beat third-ranked Alexander Zverev during the tournament and again showed his class to down 19th-ranked Bautista Agut 7-6, 6-3 and seal the tournament for Canada.
The Novak Djokovic-led Serbia won the inaugural edition of the teams event in 2020, when the Rafael Nadal-led Spain also had to settle for second, with Daniil Medvedev’s Russia earning the title last year.
“The emotions are unbelievable, there is no better feeling than winning, we left everything out there,” said Auger-Aliassime. “We lost our first four matches in this competition, but never stopped believing. We trust each other, Denis and I and everyone on the team, and I think that is very important. I’m super thrilled for everyone on the team, and of course myself. Spain is always difficult, they’ve been the best nation in the world for some time.”
Canada earned their place in the final after stunning defending champions Russia on Saturday.
They also beat Zverev’s Germany and Britain in group matches, bouncing back after crashing to the United States in their opening tie of the tournament.
It was a phenomenal effort from Auger-Aliassime who was heavily beaten by world No. 2 Medvedev on Saturday, losing the last nine games in a row.
Both he and Bautista Agut started nervously at Ken Rosewall Arena and Auger-Aliassime was broken on his opening service game, but struck straight back to even it up.
They went with serve in an intense set of long rallies and the Spaniard came through a vitally important ninth game, saving three break points to stay alive.
It went to a tie-break with the Canadian playing an electric passing shot then a textbook forehand to storm 4-1 in front and held on to take the set in an enthralling 85 minutes.
Auger-Aliassime, just 21, was serving beautifully and giving a tiring Bautista Agut few chances.
In contrast, he was putting pressure on the Spaniard’s serve, creating opportunities with his pounding forehands and it finally paid off with a break to go 5-3 clear.
With victory in sight, he served out for a deserved win that sparked joyous scenes as the team high-fived and hugged.
Both Spanish players had been in red-hot form, each winning all four of their singles encounters so far.
And Carreno Busta held a 4-1 advantage against Shapovalov going into their clash, winning their past three matches, including a five-set thriller in the 2020 US Open quarter-finals.
But the young world number 14 Canadian stepped up to emphatically gain revenge and put his country within one win of the title.
“It’s a huge win,” Shapovalov said after his match. “Full faith in Felix. He’s an amazing player and I think we have a good chance.”
The dynamic 22-year-old saved eight of the nine break points he faced to triumph.
The first game of the match, on Shapovalov’s serve, proved critical.
Carreno Busta had five break chances, which if converted could have swayed the contest in his favour. But Shapovalov hung on, going for his shots to secure the first set.
The Spaniard, down a set and a break in the second set, broke back for 3-4, but Shapovalov pummelled a forehand winner in the next game to retake the break before serving out his victory.