TORONTO — Canada's Davis Cup team developed a foolproof ritual before each of its matches along the way to the country's first-ever championship.
All of the players would slowly start to clap in their locker room, letting the tempo and volume of their applause build. As it hit a crescendo, team manager Alain Beaupré would burst into the room and start yelling the name of the next Canadian to hit the court, with the other players exploding in laughter.
"I don't even know how to describe it. He'll hold this like monotone voice and we'll just start laughing," said Vasek Pospisil on Wednesday, chuckling as he recounted the memory in the lounge of a downtown Toronto hotel. "We have this really good team energy.
"We make sure before someone gets on the court that we're all fired up."
Vancouver's Pospisil, Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., and Montreal's Felix Auger-Aliassime defeated Australia 2-0 on Sunday in the international tennis event's final in Málaga, Spain. At 32-years-old, Pospisil was the veteran of Canada's squad and he said that as much as their pre-match clapping ritual kept the team loose it was the players' mindsets that led to the victory.
"It just comes down to the mentality of the individual that's going on the court and being like, 'hey, this is our job. We're professional," said Pospisil. "The only thing you can control is doing the best you can every time you step on the court and that's never more the case than when you're playing for your country."
Although Canada is a regular participant in the Davis Cup, it was a hard road to the final.
Canada posted a 2-1 record in last September's qualification round in Valencia, Spain, beating South Korea and Spain before sealing a berth in last week's playoffs when Auger-Aliassime earned a singles win in a 2-1 loss to Serbia. They then scraped out a 2-1 win over Germany and a 2-1 victory over Italy, before dispatching the Australians for the title.
Shapovalov had dropped both his singles matches in last week's quarterfinal and semi. He needed treatment on his back during a three-set loss Saturday in the semifinals to Italy's Lorenzo Sonego that lasted more than three hours. Auger-Aliassime twice had kept the Canadians alive after Shapovalov dropped the opening singles match, and on Saturday he replaced his weary teammate to join Pospisil for the decisive doubles point over Italy.
In Sunday's final, Auger-Aliassime secured the winning point when he downed Alex de Minaur 6-3, 6-4 after Shapovalov opened the day by rolling past Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-2, 6-4. The back-to-back singles victories meant that Pospisil, Canada's doubles specialist, didn't have to step on the court against Australia.
"We kept sneaking out of these situations, so we were just starting to feel like it was like our destiny to win. I know it sounds super corny," said a smiling Pospisil. "We keep getting out of these crazy situations and playing incredible when we needed to win.
"I think the winner at an event like the Davis Cup, the stars all have to align because there's so many amazing teams. I think that definitely happened for us this year."
Pospisil said he's well aware that he may only have a few years left in his career as his mid-30s near and he is relieved to earn the Davis Cup before he retired. He said the victory at the so-called "world championship of tennis" was comparable to when he won the Wimbledon doubles title in 2014 with American partner Jack Sock.
"I poured so much energy, emotionally and physically in to the Davis Cup," said Pospisil, who has a 27-24 record at the event over his career. "Playing for your teammates, playing for your country and the tennis fans back home.
"It's as much of a weight off the shoulders as it is an amazing feeling. I have these two feelings, ecstatic joy and then also relief of this stress."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2022.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press