Canada wins first two matches over South Korea at Davis Cup
MONTREAL — Canada is in the driver’s seat after a perfect 2-0 start to its Davis Cup qualifier against South Korea.
The Canadians, however, aren’t treating it like the job is done. They still need one more win to advance to the next stage.
"It's always better to be up 2-0 instead of 1-1 heading into Day 2,” captain Frank Dancevic said. “But we still have a lot of work to do.”
Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C., defeated Seongchan Hong 6-4, 6-3 on Friday after Montreal’s Gabriel Diallo opened with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Soonwoo Kwon as second-ranked Canada took a commanding lead over No. 18 South Korea in the best-of-five event.
The 33-year-old Pospisil, playing in the 33rd Davis Cup tie of his career, improved to 32-25 all-time in tournament play.
Feeling healthy after a couple of injury-plagued seasons, he also ended a six-game losing skid in singles.
"It's strange. Normally when you lose matches like that it hurts your confidence, but it didn't really affect it," he said. "I played those six matches in a lot of pain, and these last couple weeks are the first time in a long time that I haven't had any.
“Something in my head told me that those last matches were nothing."
Diallo, 22, won his match in one hour 30 minutes in front of 1,829 spectators inside IGA Stadium, including some of the hometown player’s family and friends.
Play continues Saturday with Pospisil and Alexis Galarneau of Laval, Que., scheduled to play doubles against Jisung Nam and Minkyu Song.
In singles, Diallo was set to meet Hong and Pospisil was to face Kwon. Lineups are subject to change.
“The doubles is going to be a really tough match,” Dancevic said. “So even if we're leading 2-0, it's going to be a really serious match tomorrow in doubles. We'll need to be prepared to try and go up 3-0."
Tennis Canada announced tickets for Saturday were sold out.
Diallo said he cherished the opportunity to play in front of his home crowd.
"It's what I’ve worked for,” he said. “For me, there's no bigger moment than this, I'm from the city, from this neighbourhood, I live seven minutes away and grew up coming (to) practise here.”
Despite falling to No. 700 due to injuries, Kwon was a tricky opponent. The former world No. 52 upset top Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime in Davis Cup play in 2022.
The six-foot-eight 198-pound Diallo — who ranks No. 132 on the ATP Tour — hit 11 aces to Kwon’s two and led with 11 winners to five. Diallo had 47 unforced errors while Kwon made 41 in a match filled with mistakes.
The two sets played out in a similar fashion.
Kwon went up a break midway through each set, but Diallo quickly broke back on both occasions to gain momentum.
"The best time to break is right after you've been broken,” Diallo said. “It can be tough to consolidate your break, so I know he can let his guard down a bit after breaking."
Pospisil and Hong met for the second time after the Canadian won in a third-set tiebreak during Davis Cup play in 2022.
On this occasion, Pospisil dominated with 22 winners to Hong’s five to overcome his 40 unforced errors. Pospisil, like his teammate, came back from down a break in each set.
"I felt that I was a superior player, so it gave me a lot of confidence coming into this matchup," he said. "I felt pretty confident going into this one."
Former world No. 3 Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., and Liam Draxl of Newmarket, Ont., round out the Canadian team with top players Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., and Auger-Aliassime, from Montreal, absent.
Canada won its only previous encounter against South Korea during the 2022 round-robin tournament in Valencia, Spain, en route to its first Davis Cup title. Canada lost to Finland in the quarterfinals last year.
The winning country advances to the group stage of the Davis Cup Finals in September. The Finals take place in November at Malaga, Spain.
Pospisil’s match took one hour 48 minutes to complete, partially due to delays as he interrupted play to take issue with the pressure of the balls several times.
Pospisil said that over the last couple years, the balls are softer and possibly heavier, increasing the impact on players’ arms, he said.
As a result, he said he’s noticed an increase in shoulder, wrist and elbow injuries since he started on the tour.
"It's something that needs to be looked at," he said. "I'm already 33, so I worry for the younger guys because I know you sacrifice your whole life to make it to the top of the sport."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2024.