Schnur: Davis Cup Finals latest achievement in “golden era” of Canadian tennis

Brayden Schnur gladly lists Canada’s appearance in the Davis Cup final as one of the highlights of his season.

Not getting to play in a match during the week-long team tournament didn’t blemish the experience.

Schnur, who pulled a muscle in his back while warming up early last week, had to sit on the sidelines while Denis Shapovalov, Vasek Pospisil and Felix Auger-Aliassime led Canada to a runner-up finish in Madrid, losing to a Spanish team led by world No. 1 Rafael Nadal. It was the Canadians’ first appearance in the final.

“I feel like to end the year that way and represent Canada alongside Denis, Felix and Vasek, it was the icing on the cake,” Schnur said in a phone interview from Spain on Monday, a day after Canada’s defeat. “What these guys have done in tennis is incredible and any time you have the opportunity to bond with them, it’s so fun.

“It was really different from being on tour where you’re alone a lot of the time. … (Last week) we shared everything and we were working together to represent Canada. So the laughs we had and the team dinners and the car rides to the stadium, everything was super fun and that’s what I’ll take away from the whole thing.”

Canada’s historic Davis Cup run ended Sunday when No. 15 Shapovalov dropped a straight-sets loss to Nadal to give Spain a 2-0 victory in the best-of-three tie. Roberto Bautista Agut beat Montreal’s Auger-Aliassime earlier in the day.

Shapovalov’s defeat was a close one, with the 20-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ont., fending off two championship points in a second-set tiebreak.

“It was a very surreal moment,” Schnur said of the tense match. “To see Denis in that position, competing so closely with Rafa. That match could have gone either way in that second set and things could have easily turned in our favour.

“It was a really incredible performance and it was an incredible thing to experience. That atmosphere, seeing the stadium completely packed, and to be there cheering him on and supporting him was really cool.”

The 24-year-old Schnur earned his second nomination to a Davis Cup team when world No. 31 Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., withdrew before the event started with a persistent back injury.

Schnur, of Pickering, Ont., was set to play doubles with Pospisil in a round-robin match against the U.S. last Tuesday before pulling a muscle in warm ups. The Canadian team, which had opened that day with back-to-back singles wins over the Americans — including a big upset by the No. 150-ranked Pospisil over No. 36 Reilly Opelka — opted to retire from the doubles match.

Pospisil, the Davis Cup veteran at 29 who was coming off back surgery earlier in the year, was one of the main reasons for the team’s success at the tournament.

Schnur got a first-hand look at the resurgent Pospisil two weeks before the Davis Cup, when he lost to the Vancouver player in a Challenger final in Virginia.

“It’s an incredible comeback from his back surgery, probably one of the biggest comebacks I’ve ever seen a player make after such a serious injury,” Schnur said. “He’s a great competitor, whether he’s tired or hurt or he’s healthy the guy’s fighting for every single point and he’s putting everything on the line.”

Schnur started 2019 ranked No. 176 and ends it at No. 107. He made the finals of three Challenger events and one ATP 250 tournament (losing to Opelka in the New York Open), and played main-draw matches in two of the four Grand Slams for the first time.

Schnur, who reached a career-high No. 92 in August, can now add a Davis Cup runner-up medal and trophy to his expanding resume.

“I think I need a couple more days to let it all sink in,” he said. “Representing Canada means so much to me and just seeing the moments that people have had in previous Davis Cups makes it hit home a little more — like, wow we were right there.”

Schnur’s next goal is to crack the top 80 in 2020, and hopefully start enjoying the same kind of success on Tour that other Canadians have had this season.

“I’m really not sure if there’s a better country that is playing at this high a level so completely — men’s and women’s — right now,” Schnur said. “We’re very well represented with Bianca (Andreescu, the U.S. Open women’s champion), Denis, Felix, Milos and Vasek.

“Canadian tennis is in a golden era and I think fans should embrace it because these kinds of seasons don’t happen that often. We’re in for a hell of a ride over the next few years.”

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