By Martyn Herman
MADRID (Reuters) – Whatever the pros and cons of the new-fangled Davis Cup Finals, the old competition’s knack of inspiring players to upset the form book endures, as Vasek Pospisil showed on Thursday to fire Canada past Australia into the semi-finals.
The 29-year-old is languishing at 150 in the world after back surgery to fix a herniated disc sidelined him for six months this year, but he has lit up La Caja Magica this week with a series of stunning displays.
He was the difference again on Thursday, beating 48th-ranked John Millman 7-6(7) 6-4 in the opening singles, before teaming up with Denis Shapovalov later to win the deciding doubles rubber against Jordan Thompson and John Peers 6-4 6-4.
Australian hopes were not helped when Nick Kyrgios, impressive in their group wins over Colombia and Belgium, was surprisingly not named to play against the Canadians.
Team captain Lleyton Hewitt later clarified Kyrgios was forced out by a collarbone injury.
Pospisil has won all three of his singles matches without dropping a set. He beat 12-ranked Italian Fabio Fognini in Canada’s opening group match and then took down 22-year-old American giant Reilly Opelka, ranked 36, on Tuesday.
Thankfully there were a few hundred Canadian fans inside the sparsely populated 12,500-seat centre court at the Madrid venue that is hosting the first edition of the revamped Davis Cup.
Canada will face Serbia or Russia on Saturday in what will be only their third semi-final in the competition.
“The sky’s the limit. We don’t know, with a little luck on our side, anything can happen going into Saturday into the semis,” Canada captain Frank Dancevic told reporters.
“It’s been a great run so far.”
A rather chaotic first edition of the new Davis Cup Finals has been blighted by late finishes with Italy and the U.S. finishing at 4 a.m. the previous night.
Pospisil struck the winning volley after midnight on Thursday to end a day that also finished the remaining group matches to complete the last-eight lineup.
Serbia sealed their place in the quarter-finals in straightforward fashion with singles wins for Filip Krajinovic and Novak Djokovic over France, sealing top spot in Group A.
Defeat meant last year’s runners-up France joined 2018 winners Croatia as early departures.
Britain’s Group E decider against Kazakhstan went to the wire with doubles duo Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski edging Leon Smith’s side home for the second day running.
Former world number one Andy Murray was left out but his replacement Kyle Edmund beat Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3 6-3.
Alexander Bublik beat Dan Evans 5-7 6-4 6-1 to level the tie and raise hopes among the vociferous Kazakh fans, but Murray and Skupski easily beat Bublik and Kukushkin 6-1 6-4 to clinch it.
In what is being nicknamed the World Cup of tennis, Britain will face old soccer rivals Germany on Saturday.
Germany made sure of top spot in Group C ahead of Argentina with a 2-1 victory over Chile. Argentina crept into the quarter-finals one of the two best runners-up and will take on Spain on Friday when the hosts will be without their number-two player Roberto Bautista Agut, whose father died on Thursday.
Saturday matches have been brought forward by half an hour to try and avoid the past-midnight finishes.
Djokovic, who has been positive about the new format and is on a 14-match winning streak in singles in the competition, said the late finishes were a problem.
“I heard about the 4 a.m. finish,” Djokovic said. “I think it was always going to happen, knowing that you have 18 teams and you’re trying to squeeze everything in one week.”
The International Tennis Federation voted to change the format in 2018 in partnership with Spanish investment company Kosmos who have pledged $3 billion over 25 years.
The World Group, which featured home-and-away ties across the year before a November final, has now been replaced by an 18-nation showpiece in one city.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis and Stephen Coates)