Winter is coming, but for Canadian tennis, the snowball effect is already a thing.
Little more than two months after Bianca Andreescu became the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam singles title, the Canadian men will play in the final of the Davis Cup for the first time.
Now for the downside: Their next opponent is the home team, Spain, whose inspired leader Rafael Nadal is undefeated this week.
But that did not diminish the Canadians’ delight on Saturday after they defeated Russia, 2-1, in an on-the-edge semifinal.
“That’s the right expression — snowball effect,” said Louis Borfiga, the Tennis Canada vice president of high performance and athlete development, who is one of the primary architects of Canada’s rise. “And it’s true. Victories lead to more victories. I think when one starts to win, the others are not afraid.”
Andreescu, 19, who won the women’s title at the United States Open in September, is part of the same generation as Denis Shapovalov, 20, and Felix Auger-Aliassime, 19, who are both already ranked in the men’s top 25.
Shapovalov, with his backward cap and dynamic game in place, has been a key figure in Canada’s run to the final. But with Auger-Aliassime relegated to cheerleader duty here because of injuries, the other pillar of the Canadian team has been a member of the older guard: Vasek Pospisil.
Pospisil, 29, is ranked just No. 150 in singles after surgery in January to repair a herniated disc in his back, but he has worked his way into sparkling late-season form and won three of his four singles matches in Madrid.
Though he lost, 6-4, 6-4, to Andrey Rublev while looking weary in the opening match against Russia, he roared back for the decisive doubles win after Shapovalov evened the match with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 defeat of Karen Khachanov.
The doubles match came down to a third-set tiebreaker, and though Khachanov and Rublev jumped out to a 3-0 lead, Pospisil came up with two fine first serves to stop Russia’s momentum. Then he beat the odds by getting the better of Rublev in a baseline duel to give Canada a match point at 6-4.
At this stage, watching was more stressful than playing for one Canadian: Frank Dancevic, the team captain.
“My heart was beating so fast, I was actually starting to black out a little bit before the match point,” Dancevic said, “and I was trying to control my breathing and just telling myself to breathe very slowly, stay calm, we’re close to this.”
The Canadians converted on the next point, and Shapovalov and Pospisil, who had never played doubles together before this event, were soon jumping into each others’ arms and Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, was soon delivering congratulations on social media.
This much-debated, new-look competition clearly has a higher profile in Canada than it does in the United States, where Saturday’s semifinals were not broadcast on terrestrial or cable television.
It is not your grandfather’s Davis Cup or even your older sibling’s Davis Cup. It has been radically overhauled after the International Tennis Federation sold the rights to Kosmos, a Spanish investment firm whose president is Gerard Piqué, the Spanish soccer star.
Founded in 1900, the Davis Cup was long spread out over four home-and-away rounds throughout the year, with best-of-five-set matches played over three days. But Kosmos and the I.T.F. opted for an 18-team final phase in Madrid this year with team matches reduced to best-of-three sets played over a single day.
The change has not necessarily lightened the load. Pospisil and Shapovalov have been a two-man team this week, although Canada did have the advantage of two full days of rest during the week after starting round-robin play on Monday.
“I have to say the format has been an advantage for us,” Borfiga said.
But the biggest advantage in old or new Davis Cup remains home court, and the Spaniards and Nadal have needed the support.
It has been an emotional week. Roberto Bautista Agut, Spain’s second singles player, had to withdraw from the team after the death of his father. On Saturday night, shortly before facing Britain, Bautista’s replacement, Pablo Carreño Busta, withdrew from the opening singles match and was replaced by the 38-year-old Feliciano Lopez.
Lopez lost, 6-3, 7-6 (3), and after Nadal routed Dan Evans, 6-4, 6-0, the semifinal came down to the doubles match between Lopez and Nadal and Neal Skupski and Jamie Murray.
Andy Murray, the former world No. 1 who has played many a major match against Nadal, was not picked for the match and is still working his way back after hip resurfacing surgery earlier this year. He watched the doubles from the second row of the stands with the rest of the British team as his older brother matched strokes, wits and reflexes with Nadal and Lopez.
Despite facing four set points in the second set, the Spaniards managed to close out the victory, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (8), with Nadal playing spectacularly to save two of the set points.
“We went through a lot of things this week,” Nadal said. “I can’t thank enough the team and of course can’t thank enough all the crowd. Without them, I will not say we were not going to win, but for sure the chances will be much lower.”