Great Britain saw their hopes of reaching the ATP Cup semi-finals dashed by Canada on Thursday at the Sydney Super Dome as Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov won singles matches against Germany to fire their country into the final four and a clash with defending champions Russia on Saturday.
In a fiercely competitive Group C a brilliant 6-7, 7-5, (10-8) doubles victory from Jamie Murray and Dan Evans over the USA pair John Isner and Taylor Fritz had earned the Brits a 2-1 tie victory against the Americans, and kept the door open by putting the pressure on Canada for their final group game.
But the strong young Canadian team held their nerve against the Germans, with first the 22-year-old Shapovalov proving too strong for Jan Lennard Struff 7-6, 4-6, 6-3 – and then Auger-Aliassime, a year younger than his team-mate, sealed the deal and a 2-0 tie success with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win against world No3 and recent ATP Finals champion Alex Zverev.
It was a rollercoaster and hotly disputed group from the very start, highlighted by the fact that Canada went down 3-0 to the USA in their opener. But in the end GB’s 2-1 defeat to Canada in the group proved decisive – something Auger-Aliassime immediately referred to after seeing off Zverev.
It was a bizarre day for top-level tennis to be taking place in New South Wales in Australia, what with the farcical goings-on over at Melbourne airport in Victoria dominating the news headlines as world No1 and nine-time Australian Open winner Novak Djokovic had his visa cancelled on medical grounds on arrival and was holed up in a quarantine hotel as his lawyers put together an appeal.
The entire sporting world, let alone the tennis community, was watching those scenes in growing incredulity after the Serb’s vaccination saga came to a surreal head. But on court in Sydney the action was gripping, if ultimately disappointing for Cameron Norrie, Evans, Murray, Joe Salisbury and captain Liam Broady.
And it was especially tough on Evans for GB. The 31-year-old from Birmingham, currently ranked No25 in the world, won all three of his singles matches in the group – plus both doubles matches with Murray for which he was selected.
After the brilliant doubles win against the USA that saw them come back from a set and 4-2 down with the American serving for a 5-2 lead, to offer hope that Germany might pull something out of the fire against the Canadians, Murray said: “We were hustling, trying to get the ball back in play and use our skills.
“We played an amazing point to break back at 4-2 down in the second set and then played a great tie-break to keep it alive. The event is good for so many reasons, having high-quality players with the best singles and doubles players in the world.”
Evans, who came in for Salisbury for the last doubles, said: “After discussing it we decided that was the good option for today. Jamie just talked me through the whole match, he calls it and I do what he says. It makes it easier with him being everywhere on the court and mopping it all up.”
Following his victory over Zverev, Auger-Aliassime said: “There is a lot of confidence having won this group. The tie against Great Britain was a big turning point and a key moment. We were down 1-0 in the tie, and close to finishing last in the group. But winning that match was a big boost for Dennis and I. And now we are feeling great going into Russia on Saturday.
“It feels very good to beat Zverev and see us through into the semi-finals. I played a good match against a great player who has beaten me a couple of times. So it was nice to get the job done, and especially for the team. You expect him with his back against the wall to do something, that’s why he is one of the best in the world. It isn’t always easy to stay positive, but I did today.
“We started off with a really tough one against the USA a couple of days ago, so it is much better to finish off the group like this.”
After his earlier win against Struff, Shapovalov had said: “It has been a fight in every match. Felix inspired us in the previous tie against GB, and we are all giving it all for Canada. I had a tough record against Struff who always brings it against me, so I knew I had to play well and I kept the level high.
“It is such a different environment for a tennis player being in the team. It was tough losing to Dan Evans in the previous match, he played really well in that one. But Felix has fired and in this format you are never really out of it.”
The other semi-final on Friday at the Ken Rosewall Arena in Sydney will be between Spain and Poland after they both topped their groups.