Defending champion Canada enters Davis Cup well aware of challenges ahead

After 109 years, Canada won its first-ever Davis Cup title last year in Spain.

The encore begins on Wednesday.

“It was really important for us to win the Davis Cup,” coach Frank Dancevic told CBC Sports. “I think that until you actually do it, it’s difficult to believe that it can be done. But now that we’ve done it, we know that it’s possible for us.”

Dancevic, who played in the tournament across 14 years for Canada, is bringing back most of the same title-winning team, with one glaring exception in world No. 15 Felix Auger-Aliassime.

The four-man squad includes returning champions Denis Shapovalov (No. 26), Vasek Pospisil (192), Gabriel Diallo (159) and Alexis Galarneau (200).

Shapovalov recently skipped the U.S. Open with an injury, but Dancevic said last Thursday that the Richmond Hill, Ont., native is still planning on travelling to Italy, where the group stage will be held.

Canada faces the home team in its first match Wednesday before meeting Sweden on Thursday and Chile on Saturday. Live coverage each day begins at 9 a.m. ET on, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem.

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Canada prepares for Davis Cup group stage, looking to defend championship title

CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo previews Canada’s team that will compete in the Davis Cup group stage against Chile, Italy, and Sweden.

Regardless of the individuals who make up the team, Dancevic, of Niagara Falls, Ont., said that what makes the Davis Cup so special is the opportunity to represent Canada and play for something bigger than yourself.

“The whole team has to come together at the right time to win the entire thing. And it was really a magical moment when Felix won that match point and we won the entire thing,” he recalled.

Dancevic, 38, said that in the moments after Auger-Aliassime clinched the Davis Cup title with his singles victory over Australia’s Alex de Minaur last November, the team retreated to the locker room and reminisced on its path to the top.

“We couldn’t believe it for a long time. We were just really happy and celebrating,” he said.

Still, the Davis Cup veteran understood how important it is to savour victory in such a fickle tournament.

“It really is a miracle for everybody to come together as a team and the staff putting the guys together all week, working 10 hours a day. … You can imagine it’s just a lot of work, right? It’s a lot of work from the whole team to get these guys firing,” he said.

WATCH | Canada wins 2022 Davis Cup:

Auger-Aliassime clinches Canada its 1st Davis Cup title

Felix Auger-Aliassime rolled through the clinching match in straight sets to get Canada its first-ever Davis Cup championship.

Galarneau embraces bench role

While Auger-Aliassime, along with Shapovalov and Pospisil, carried Canada on the court, Galarneau played just one match in the group stage, lasting three games in doubles with Pospisil before retiring.

For the remainder of the tournament, the Laval, Que., native took on a sideline role, providing energy or even just a smile when needed.

“I think I’ve got a good feel for the game, good feel for people’s emotions. So I try to trust those instincts of mine on the bench and play my role if I can, as well get the bench to get some energy when needed or the crowd get involved and it’s just fun,” he told CBC Sports.

Without Auger-Aliassime, there’s a chance Galarneau sees the court more often this time around.

The 24-year-old won his first ATP Challenger event title in July in Granby, Que.

“I definitely feel like I’m prepared as ever to come in and have an impact for my team. Seeing what the guys did last year, seeing how they competed, how they managed things, only helped me be ready for my moment and if it comes this week, I’ll be ready,” he said.

“If not, I’ll be on the bench and I’ll be cheering for the guys because that’s my role.”

‘Hungry’ to win again

Dancevic said his expectations for the 2023 team are modest given how difficult it was to win last year, when Canada was victorious in consecutive do-or-die doubles matches.

“Realistically we believe that we can win it again for sure. Whether it’s this year or next year or in the next five to 10 years, we believe that it’s possible, and it was definitely something I know the guys would be hungry for, to win it one more time,” he said.

Canada must place top two among its group in Italy to advance to a second-straight finals, which take place back in Spain beginning Nov. 21.

Italy suffered a blow recently with the injury withdrawals of sixth-ranked Jannik Sinner and No. 36 Matteo Berrettini, but still carries the top-ranked player in the group with No. 18 Lorenzo Musetti.

Sweden features No. 170 Elias Ymer, who’s won six of his last eight Davis Cup matches, and Leo Borg, the son of tennis icon Bjorn Borg.

Chile comes equipped with No. 25 Nicolas Jarry, who won a pair of clay-court tournaments earlier this year.

A year after its maiden victory, it’s clear Canada understands it cannot underestimate any of those opponents.

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