Bautista Agut victory puts Spain on the brink of Davis Cup triumph
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Rafael Nadal could clinch the Davis Cup for Spain after Roberto Bautista Agut gave the hosts the lead in the final against Canada on Sunday by beating Felix Auger-Aliassime.
Bautista Agut returned after withdrawing on Thursday following the death of his father and the world number nine sealed an emotional 7-6 (7/3), 6-3 victory in Madrid as Spain edged closer to their sixth success in this competition.
Nadal will face Denis Shapovalov in the second singles match, with the chance to establish an unassailable 2-0 advantage and deem irrelevant the final doubles rubber.
The Spanish team had shown support for Bautista Agut earlier this week by leaving a gap as they stood on court for their national anthem and this was a poignant win for the 31-year-old, who also lost his mother unexpectedly last year.
At the finish, he embraced his captain Sergi Bruguera by the net before leaping up into the arms of his delighted team-mates in the crowd.
In front of a raucous home crowd, Bautista Agut's experience appeared crucial, particularly at the end of a nervy first-set tie-break when the 19-year-old Auger-Aliassime lost both his composure and consistency.
Vasek Pospisil and Shapovalov have won six out of their eight singles matches this week and the decision of Canada captain Frank Dancevic to throw in the teenager was a bold one.
Auger-Aliassime is considered one of the game's brightest young talents but this was only his second Davis Cup tie, even if he was key to Canada's progress after winning the decisive rubber in their qualifier against Slovakia back in February.
This is Canada's first ever Davis Cup final in comparison to Spain, who are playing their 10th, albeit first since 2012, when they were beaten by the Czech Republic.
The opening set was tight as Auger-Aliassime absorbed some early pressure and then had a break point at 4-3, only for Bautista Agut to deliver a booming serve down the middle.
There was nothing in the tie-break either, until the eighth point, when two poor shots from Auger-Aliassime, the second a wild forehand long, gave his opponent three chances to take the set. Bautista Agut won it as another Auger-Aliassime forehand flew out.
The Spaniard had the momentum and claimed another break for 2-0 in the second set when again an Auger-Aliassime forehand missed its mark.
Auger-Aliassime threatened a comeback by breaking back as a winner into the corner was shown to have clipped the line, but the resistance was brief.
Bautista Agut broke again straight away, this time to love, and then served it out as Auger-Aliassime missed a pass down the line before floating a final backhand wide.
© 2019 AFP