Nadal, grieving Bautista Agut lead Spain to Davis Cup title
MADRID (AP) — Rafael Nadal gave all he had on the Caja Mágica center court in Madrid.
The top-ranked Spanish star even admitted he risked getting injured by playing eight matches — five singles, three doubles — in six days at the Davis Cup Finals, the new World Cup of men’s team tennis.
Nadal won all his matches, leading Spain to its sixth Davis Cup with a victory over first-time finalist Canada on Sunday.
But in Nadal’s opinion, the only hero for Spain was grieving teammate Roberto Bautista Agut. He sent Spain on its way to victory by winning the first singles match on Sunday, three days after the death of his father.
“I’ve won the eight matches but the person who was vital in this Davis Cup was Roberto,” Nadal said. “For me, what he did was something almost (super) human. I don’t know how to explain it. It will be an example for the rest of my life. He had to leave, then his dad died, then he came back and practiced with us yesterday, and today he was ready again to play at a very high level. It was something incredible.”
Before Nadal defeated Denis Shapovalov 6-3, 7-6 (7) to clinch the title — Spain’s first since also winning at home in 2011 — Bautista Agut had given Spain a 1-0 lead by beating Félix Auger-Aliassime 7-6 (3), 6-3.
Bautista Agut pointed his finger to the sky after winning the final point in his match, and was in tears while speaking briefly to the crowd, which chanted his name.
“It was an amazing feeling on the court today,” said Bautista Agut, who was the Spanish player lifting the cup in the title celebrations.
Bautista Agut’s father died on Thursday — a day after his son had defeated Nikola Mektic of Croatia — with his health deteriorating quickly after an illness that stemmed from a 2016 accident.
It was Nadal who had tears in his eyes when Bautista Agut thanked him for his efforts during the tournament.
“You gave us goosebumps all week, especially today,” Bautista Agut said. “Thank you. I’m sure that next year you will do it again.”
The 31-year-old Bautista Agut, No. 9 in the world, played as teammates Pablo Carreño Busta and Marcel Granollers nursed injuries entering the final.
“I had the opportunity to play today because all the team and all the players did an unbelievable effort since the first day,” Bautista Agut said.
Nadal considered himself lucky to be able to play all matches.
“It’s true that I held up, but we know that playing so many matches in this (hard court) surface is risky for me, something can happen at any time,” Nadal said. “That’s how it’s been in the past, but luckily I held up.”
Spain’s Marcel Granollers and Feliciano López had been scheduled to face Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil in the now canceled doubles, although Nadal was likely to play if the title had been at stake. Nadal played in the decisive doubles on Friday and Saturday.
Voted the tournament’s best player, Nadal sealed the title with his 29th straight Davis Cup singles win, igniting the home crowd’s celebrations.
Tournament organizer and Barcelona soccer star Gerard Piqué, his wife Shakira — who performed in the closing ceremony — and Spanish King Felipe VI were among those celebrating Spain’s triumph.
Spain’s other Davis Cup titles were in 2000, ’04, ’08, ’09 and ’11.
Canada was seeking its first Davis Cup title since debuting in the competition in 1913.
“I feel like we’ve really come really far as a team, as a nation,” the 20-year-old Shapovalov said. “Definitely we’re super proud. Obviously it sucks, sucks losing in the finals. But I’m super proud of everyone. We’ve put in 120% every single day. It’s amazing how far we’ve been able to come.”
The Canadians eliminated Italy and the United States in the group stage, and Australia and Russia in the knockout rounds.
The 19-year-old Auger-Aliassime lost to Bautista Agut while making his debut in this year’s tournament. He was coming off an ankle injury that had seen him sidelined through the group stage and the quarterfinals and semifinals.
Canada came to Madrid without Milos Raonic because of a back injury. Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil were the only players who had competed until Sunday.
Spain beat Russia and Croatia in the group stage, and Argentina and Britain in the knockout rounds.
The new Davis Cup Finals is the result of a 25-year partnership between the International Tennis Federation and the Kosmos group co-founded by Piqué. For the first time, 18 nations played in the same venue in a single week, instead of head-to-head matches that used to take place over four weekends throughout the year.
The tournament returns to Madrid next year.