Diallo to open Davis Cup qualifier against South Korea, Raonic doesn't make draw
MONTREAL — With Canada’s top players sitting out, Montreal’s Gabriel Diallo is taking centre stage in his hometown at the Davis Cup this weekend.
The 22-year-old is scheduled to meet Soonwoo Kwon to open Canada's qualifier against South Korea on Friday at IGA Stadium next to the city’s Villeray neighbourhood, where Diallo grew up.
"It's my hometown, it's in my neighbourhood,” Diallo said after Thursday’s draw downtown. “It's for these moments that we work really hard, and to have the privilege to be called up here and to represent my country in this city, it means the world to me."
The six-foot-eight, 198-pound Diallo is ranked 132nd in singles on the ATP Tour. Former world No. 3 Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., Alexis Galarneau of Laval, Que., Vasek Pospisil of Vernon, B.C., and Liam Draxl of Newmarket, Ont. round out the Canadian team. Canada is No. 2 in the Davis Cup rankings, while South Korea is 18th.
No. 30-ranked Felix Auger-Aliassime of Montreal and former No. 10 Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., will not participate in the tie. Both Canadians played in a tournament this week in Montpellier, France.
Raonic, 33, replaced Shapovalov on Canada’s Davis Cup roster last week. Canada captain Frank Dancevic decided against selecting him for the draw, despite saying Raonic was healthy on Tuesday. Raonic returned to the ATP Tour last year after an extended injury absence.
“The bottom line is we have a really deep team with a lot of great players that can play both singles and doubles,” Dancevic said. “Gabriel and Vasek are really sharp, they're playing really well this week. I feel like they're a really good matchup going out on Friday."
Raonic said he’s there to help, whether that’s on the court or off it.
“Whatever that role is big, small. I'd be happy to contribute in any way I can," he said.
Pospisil drew Seongchan Hong in the second singles match Friday. He’s also scheduled to play Saturday alongside Alexis Galarneau of Laval, Que., in a doubles match against Jisung Nam and Minkyu Song. Diallo then meets Hong and Pospisil faces Kwong in singles to wrap up the best-of-five event.
The matchups for Friday are set, while the lineups for Saturday are subject to change.
Canada hasn’t hosted a Davis Cup match since 2018 in Toronto. It’s Montreal's first time hosting since 2012, when Raonic — then world No. 15 — led a team of Pospisil, Dancevic and Daniel Nestor to a 4-1 victory against South Africa.
Pospisil will play in his 33rd career Davis Cup tie. The 33-year-old has gone 31-25 in the competition and believes the added motivation of playing for Canada is a big reason why.
"If you're playing for a team, you're playing for your country there's obviously more eyeballs on your results,” he said. “In a lot of ways actually I like that much more than going and playing some of the individual events.”
Canada won its only previous encounter against South Korea during the 2022 group stage in Valencia, Spain, en route to its first Davis Cup title. Canada lost to Finland in the quarterfinals last year.
This year, the Canadians face a South Korean team that’s short of star power, but Kwon could be a player to watch.
Despite falling to No. 700, he reached No. 52 in November 2021 and is the only member of the team to have won an ATP title. He also upset Auger-Aliassime 7-6 (5), 6-3, when the two countries met in 2022.
Hong, at No. 224, is South Korea’s highest-ranked player.
"We know it's a very difficult team to beat,” Dancevic said. “Kwon beat Felix in 2022, so his level of play is very high."
The winning country advances to the group stage of the Davis Cup Finals in September. The Finals take place this November in Malaga, Spain.
WHERE TO WATCH
This week's tie will not be available on Canadian television outside of Quebec.
All matches will air live in French on TVA Sports 2 but will only be available in English via live-streaming on CBC Gem or the CBC Sports website and app, Tennis Canada said.
Sportsnet is the Canadian rights-holder for the National Bank Open and usually provides Davis Cup coverage as well.
"For this Davis Cup event, these broadcaster deals were made through the ITF (International Tennis Federation), and for this specific tie only, not for the full year," Tennis Canada spokesperson Pat Steski said in an email.
It was unclear if the Toronto-based broadcast network planned to provide future Davis Cup coverage.
Sportsnet spokesperson Claudia Frutti would only confirm the network would not be broadcasting the competition this week.
Canadian television coverage plans for future ties this year were "still to be determined," Steski said.
"These deals typically happen much closer to the start of the events," he said.
A message left with the ITF was not immediately returned.
— With files from Gregory Strong in Toronto.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2024.